Founding principle: ‘what’s the value of solar for me?’
Clean Power Research has its roots in the research and publications of its founder, Thomas Hoff, Ph.D. With a solar and utility background from PG&E stretching back to the 1980’s, Tom left Stanford University in 1997 with a Ph.D. in Engineering Economic Systems and an established passion for renewable energy and particularly photovoltaics (PV). Clean Power Research began as a vehicle for research and consulting projects, particularly around the economics of PV. As Tom buried himself in the technical minutiae of these studies, a question from a neighbor nagged at him: What’s the value of solar for me? Such a simple question, yet the work required to answer it required hours of PV output modeling, incentive and rate analysis, bill savings comparisons and environmental impact calculations.
From research to software: scaling solar valuation for the industry
Tom’s background in software prompted him to develop Clean Power Estimator® (now PowerBill® API) to answer the question his neighbor had posed. As an online calculation tool and the company’s first software product, Clean Power Estimator quickly found interested customers in the utility and PV manufacturer segments. From there, other software products such as QuickQuotes™ evolved over the late 1990’s to meet the needs of other segments of the industry.
PowerClerk®, one of the company’s most important products, was developed as a result of conversations with utility incentive program managers in the early 2000’s. Utility managers were appreciative of the work Clean Power Research had done around incentive design, but their most pressing pain point was administering programs efficiently and cost effectively. Most programs were entirely paper-based, and submitted forms often contained errors that delayed processing. The delays and the lack of clarity on expected incentive amounts frustrated installers. Program administrators struggled with huge volumes of applications and an inability to enforce data entry or calculation standards on paper applications, let alone generate reports on the status and remaining funds in their programs.
PowerClerk was thus born as a tool to optimize incentive program operations, incorporating application workflow, automating incentive calculations and providing online access for both installers and administrators. Today, PowerClerk has been used to run more than sixty incentive programs nationwide, including programs for PV, solar domestic hot water/solar thermal, small wind and small hydro. More than 130,000 applications have been submitted through PowerClerk, representing more than 2.5 GW of capacity.
With the success of PowerClerk, the company broadened its software focus. A 2007 partnership with the University at Albany (SUNY) and Dr. Richard Perez led to the development of SolarAnywhere®, an irradiance data and analysis tool, and the core of the company’s solar prediction offerings.
Clean Power Research today
With the growth of the company’s software portfolio, the decision was made in 2008 to split the software services group from research and consulting. An office was opened in Kirkland, Wash., to focus on the software development and operations portions of the business. Jeff Ressler, a 10+ year veteran of Microsoft, was brought in to run the newly established group. This new structure allowed Tom and the company’s other researchers and consultants to maintain their focus on seminal research and strategic engagements with important utility and government customers. In the time since this change, the output of the research and consulting group has more than quadrupled, with the broader industry contributions being recognized in key publications, through speaking opportunities and the granting of several patents.
Today the company focuses on research, consulting and software for solar prediction, energy valuation and program optimization. These products make it simple for customers to quickly get accurate, location-specific information about the economic, energy and environmental impact of their renewable energy projects. Utilities, government, state energy offices, engineers, developers, manufacturers, installers and financiers rely on Clean Power Research for project siting, planning and operations, incentive program management, and renewable energy sales tools.