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Electricity: Thought Leadership and Analysis

Our current work:


In order to help PV solar reach true scale and make RMI’s long-term goals a reality, the solar program has one major goal: to accelerate PV deployment across the U.S. This work focuses on three major avenues of change: working with industry to reduce balance of system cost, streamlining investor access to PV systems, and assisting utilities with the integration of distributed PV. Learn more about Simple BOS, Solar Road Map, and the Innovative Solar Business Models Project.

Recent Projects

Report: The Economics of Battery Energy Storage

Much attention has been paid to batteries' impressive cost declines. But our latest report shifts the focus to the other important half of the battery equation: value. It shows how customer-sited, multi-use batteries can deliver more services and generate more value for customers and the grid, making batteries cost effective today.

Dowload the executive summary, full report and technical appendices here.

Report: The Economics of Demand Flexibility

In The Economics of Demand Flexibility, we show how simple, Internet-connected technologies like smart thermostats to control AC, dryer timers, grid-interactive water heaters, and smart EV charging can drive out 10–20% of those anticipated grid investments, while simultaneously saving customers 10–40% on their electricity bills. This approach relies on more-granular electricity rates such as time-varying pricing and residential demand charges that exist today as opt-in choices for 65 million customers, and simple technologies—costing only a few hundred dollars—that can help customers automatically respond to these price signals.

Download the executive summary and/or full report.

Report: The Economics of Load Defection

This April 2015 report from Rocky Mountain Institute with HOMER Energy and other partners analyzes how grid-connected solar-plus-battery systems will become cost effective relative to rising prices for retail grid electricity from utilities. We found that these systems could supply a significant majority of customers' electricity within 10–15 years in many parts of the country, potentially undermining energy sales revenue that would support major and necessary grid investments. This drives the urgent need for reform on three fronts—rate structures, utility business models, and regulatory frameworks—in order to foster an optimized, integrated grid that sees distributed energy resources (DERs) as a source of potential value and benefit, rather than a threat to the grid.

Read more and download the executive summary and/or full report.

Report: The Economics of Grid Defection

This report from Rocky Mountain Institute, HOMER Energy and CohnReznick Think Energy details the potential for appreciable customer defection from the electric grid in major markets by 2025, without incurring higher costs or lower reliability. The report shows that, as the hybrid combination of solar photovoltaic and battery storage become cost competitive with retail grid electricity rates, migration of customers away from the grid could happen well within the 30-year planned economic life of typical utility investments such as central thermal generation plants and transmission infrastructure.

The report outlines possible scenarios in five different U.S. regions—Hawaii, California, Kentucky, Texas and New York—and identify when solar PV and storage combinations could disrupt existing utility business models. Read More and Download the Report

Report: Reinventing Fire in Southern California

The prolonged shut-down of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) in Southern California could mark an important turning point for the region’s electricity system. Distributed and demand-side resources offer a portfolio of solutions to help fill the near-term supply gap, while also advancing California’s long-term goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and supporting local economic development and job creation. Read More and Download the Report

Report: Pacific Gas and Electric

On behalf of PG&E, RMI organized and facilitated a roundtable of experts to evaluate the potential implications for the utility and its customers of a future business environment characterized by high levels of customer energy efficiency, growing numbers of zero net energy buildings, and increased adoption of distributed generation (DG) by utility customers. Read More and Download the Report

San Francisco Public Utilities Commission

San Francisco's first Energy Resource Plan (ERP) was developed in 2002 with Rocky Mountain Institute. The ERP is a set of energy resource portfolios that combine existing and future energy resources to meet San Francisco's need for adequate and reliable supply of electricity services while minimizing costs and environmental impacts. RMI evaluated several combinations of resource options and based on the results of this analysis, we presented a set of recommendations for the city's consideration.

Under this project, RMI's role was to update the 2002 ERP by:

  • Understanding the current CO2 reduction trajectory of the city's electrical system
  • Assessing the gap between the current trajectory and the city's 2030 greenhouse gas (GHG) goal
  • Identifying and prioritizing available levers (energy resource options and policy) to affect the current GHG emissions trajectory for the electrical system
  • Integrating the energy resource levers into a small number of portfolios and assessing their robustness against a set of likely future scenarios
  • Making recommendations for a practical implementation plan to utilize the resource and policy levers identified and overcome barriers needed to achieve the city's GHG goal for its electrical system.

Duke Energy

Duke Energy is the third-largest carbon emitter in the U.S., largely driven by its heavy reliance on coal. To address this issue, CEO Jim Rogers challenged his team to reduce the company’s carbon emissions 50 percent by 2030. In 2010, RMI worked with Duke Energy to evaluate the potential and costs of a number of low-carbon resources, including energy efficiency, wind, solar, biomass, nuclear, and carbon capture and sequestration. By taking a scenario planning approach, RMI helped Duke Energy explore the risks and opportunities associated with several future scenarios.

Reinventing Fire

To assess the implications of possible future paths of the U.S. electricity sector in Reinventing Fire, RMI analyzed four scenarios or “cases” based on differing assumptions about how electricity might be generated, delivered, and used from 2010 to 2050. To do so, RMI conducted extensive analysis using a variety of tools including two primary models—the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL) Regional Energy Deployment System (ReEDS) and RMI’s electricity dispatch model.

Solar BoS workshop

While module costs have come down significantly in the last decade, the “balance of system” costs—all the upfront costs associated with a PV system except the module—remain a barrier to large PV adoption. In June 2010, Rocky Mountain Institute convened more than 50 industry stakeholders and outside experts to a design charrette. Held in San Jose, California, the event offered a fragmented and multifaceted industry a chance to collaborate on strategies to reduce installed BoS costs for commercial and small utility systems.

Publications and Case Studies

UC-San Diego Microgrid Watch
Turbocharging Energy Efficiency Read

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