Several States are Embracing Distributed Energy Resources to Achieve Clean Energy Targets


Thanks to decreasing renewable energy prices and progressive policymakers, state-level 100% clean energy targets are becoming more common across the United States. Federal policymakers have proposed legislation that would mandate 50% of national power be green by 2035.

The use of distributed energy resources (DERs), clean energy generation, and other technologies on the distribution network are central to reaching clean energy goals and navigating the resulting energy infrastructure paradigm shift. DERs can produce energy (e.g. rooftop solar panels), modulate or shift demand (e.g. batteries and smart thermostats), or efficiently use electricity in improved ways (e.g. LEDs, heat pumps, and electric vehicles).

There are many advantages to using DERs over fossil fuels such as:

  • Zero emissions
  • More efficient and resilient
  • Use existing infrastructure to cut down on land use
  • Easily mass produced, which drives down cost
  • Draw investment from a wider capital pool and involve additional investors through more diverse ownership capital

However, there are significant barriers to DER deployment. In order to achieve necessary economic impact, DERs must be deployed at scale— ideally in a standardized fashion.

Taking Action

New Jersey is the ninth state to set a 100% clean energy target. About 49% of the state’s electricity currently comes from fossil fuel generation.

A new study conducted by the Center for Renewables Integration (CRI), Gridworks, and GridLab highlights the importance of DERs for realizing New Jersey’s target of 100% clean energy. The study finds that DERs, such as solar, storage, energy efficiency, and electric vehicles, will provide new services for utilities and customers. This is expected to reduce overall energy demand while creating jobs.

“In 2001, the year before I became the President of the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, New Jersey had six solar installations across the entire state,” says CRI co-founder Jeanne Fox. “We pioneered innovative solutions then and now have more solar installed than any state in the Northeast. The principals in this report build on our past progress and will keep New Jersey on the forefront of fighting climate change for years to come.”

In California, the Public Utilities Commission offers a 4% profit to utility shareholders for deferred distribution upgrades. However, regulators have found only a few non-wires alternatives (NWA) to be cost-effective. According to Terrie Prosper, director of news and outreach for the California commission, the results are mixed. In four solicitations, DERs were only found cost-effective in the half the cases.

Colorado legislators are also taking action to achieve clean energy targets. This year, they directed the Colorado Public Utilities Commission to create rules that require the two investor-owned utilities in the state, Xcel Energy and Black Hills Energy, to file plans for investment in electrical distribution system.

Erin Overturf, deputy director of Western Resource Advocates’ clean energy program, says, “There are a lot more tools available to utilities now than in the past. This planning process is a way to make sure the utilities are looking at alternatives rather than just pursuing the same old ‘pole-and-wire’ solutions.”

As more customers install rooftop solar panels and purchase electric vehicles, planning must reflect the increased complexity of the grid.

“Today, we have a much more dynamic energy system, and many customers are very interested in utilizing distributed energy resources, some of which can flow power back through the grid, creating bilateral energy flows. That is much more complex and requires more thought,” continues Overturf.

She believes this new regulatory oversight will provide new transparency. It may also identify opportunities for customers to save money while also using low-emission distributed energy resources.

Other states on the path of distribution network and grid modernization planning include Minnesota, New York, and Oregon. In a process that looks very much like what Colorado legislators prescribed for regulators, Oregon has started engaging with stakeholders.

DER Prep

Is your organization prepared for the deployment of distributed energy resources— including the impact Standard 1547-2018 has on the design and deployment of DER systems?

Train your entire technical team with Introduction to IEEE Standard 1547-2018: Connecting Distributed Energy Resources, an online course program from IEEE. Connect with an IEEE Content Specialist today to learn more about getting access to this program.



Gimon, Eric. (15 Jun 2019). Overcoming Barriers To 100% Clean Energy, Part One: The Electricity Distribution Network. Forbes.

Randolph, Kevin. (15 Jul 2019). Electricity grid think tanks emphasize role of distributed energy resources in New Jersey’s energy transformation. Daily Energy Insider.

Best, Allen. (15 Jul 2019). Colorado puts regulatory microscope on utility distribution system planning. Energy News Network.

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