SEPA’s Fact Finding Mission to Italy Provides U.S. Utilities with Inside View of a Leading Solar Market

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Utility decision-makers study market development and grid integration

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What struck U.S. utility leaders was the confidence expressed by their Italian counterparts as they face the challenges of market management and grid integration. That was a valuable lesson that our utility leaders undoubtedly brought home.

U.S. utility leaders on a recent fact-finding mission to Italy, led by the Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA), returned with new insights on how to effectively integrate solar as a mainstream energy resource, how to adapt to a rapidly changing market and how policy-makers struggle to encourage sustainable growth in a ‘boom’ market. The lessons learned by touring the second largest global solar market in the world will be useful for domestic utilities as they continue to expand the scope and availability of solar energy in the United States.

SEPA, an educational non-profit focused on helping utilities integrate solar into their energy portfolios, led 25 utility executives and managers from across the country, as well as supporting experts from government agencies and research organizations, to Italy on its fourth annual Solar Fact Finding Mission from May 7 to 14. While abroad, the delegation met with a number of Italian government, business, utility and solar industry leaders, and toured several manufacturing facilities and commercial installations.

“Over the past two years, Italy has seen a heavy influx of new solar capacity on its electric power grid,” said Julia Hamm, President and CEO of SEPA. “The utilities have managed to integrate this new supply without weakening the system’s reliability or performance. Our participants learned some valuable lessons on how Italy has made this transformation.”

Despite stagnant economic growth over the last decade, Italy’s cumulative photovoltaic installations have grown exponentially. Since 2009, Italy has integrated nearly 7,000 megawatts of new solar capacity to its national grid. By comparison, the U.S. power system — which as a whole is 15 times larger than Italy’s — has achieved 1,400 megawatts of new solar integration in that time period.

“The SEPA fact-finding mission provides a great opportunity to explore how other countries are developing energy policies and strategies to promote renewable generation,” said Lonnie Carter, President and CEO, Santee Cooper, South Carolina’s leading utility. “The mission provides an open forum to learn from the experience of others.”

The fact-finding mission offered insight into the policy, economic and technology approaches that Italy is undertaking to drive greater solar adoption and maturation, as well as their efforts to develop high penetration solar grid management technologies, including smart grid implementation.

“The Italians recognize the importance of expanding smart grid technologies but also understand that national projects of this size and scope often encounter roadblocks and setbacks,” said Hamm. “What struck U.S. utility leaders was the confidence expressed by their Italian counterparts as they face the challenges of market management and grid integration. That was a valuable lesson that our utility leaders undoubtedly brought home.”

SEPA has prepared a report summarizing the full findings of the mission, and participants are available now for media interviews. SEPA will host a webinar to discuss the lessons learned from the Italy Fact Finding Mission at 2 p.m. Eastern, 11 a.m. Pacific on July 14. Visit http://www.solarelectricpower.org/events/webinars for more information and to register. The trip’s findings will also be discussed during panels at the Utility Solar Conference (July 26 – 27) and Solar Power International (October 17 – 20).

ABOUT SEPA
The Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA) is an educational non-profit dedicated to helping utilities integrate solar power into their energy portfolios. With more than 875 utility and solar industry members, SEPA provides unbiased utility solar market intelligence, up-to-date information about technologies and business models, and peer-to-peer interaction. From hosting national events to one-on-one counseling, SEPA helps utilities make smart solar decisions. For more information, visit http://www.solarelectricpower.org.

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