Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering (MS)

Administrative Home Department

Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

Advisor 1

Joshua M. Pearce

Committee Member 1

Paul L. Bergstrom

Committee Member 2

David Watkins


Distributed generation with solar photovoltaic (PV) technology is economically competitive if net metered in the U.S. Yet there is evidence that net metering is misrepresenting the true value of distributed solar generation so that the value of solar (VOS) is becoming the preferred method for evaluating economics of grid-tied PV. VOS calculations are challenging and there is widespread disagreement in the literature on the methods and data needed. To overcome these limitations, this thesis reviews past VOS studies to develop a generalized model that considers realistic future avoided costs and liabilities. The approach used here is bottom-up modeling where the final VOS for a utility system is calculated. The avoided costs considered are: plant O&M fixed and variable; fuel; generation capacity, reserve capacity, transmission capacity, distribution capacity, and environmental and health liability. The VOS represents the sum of these avoided costs. Each sub-component of the VOS has a sensitivity analysis run on the core variables and these sensitivities are applied for the total VOS. The results show that grid-tied utility customers are being grossly under-compensated in most of the U.S. as the value of solar eclipses the net metering rate as well as two-tiered rates. It can be concluded that substantial future work is needed for regulatory reform to ensure that grid-tied solar PV owners are not unjustly subsidizing U.S. electric utilities.

Even without regulatory reform PV is economic, yet to further accelerate PV deployment the economics of PV systems can be improved. One approach to doing this also provides a potential solution to the coupled water–energy–food challenges in land use with the concept of floating photovoltaics or floatovoltaics (FPV). In this thesis, a new approach to FPV is investigated using a flexible crystalline silicon-based FPV module backed with foam, which is less expensive than conventional pontoon-based FPV. This novel form of FPV is tested experimentally for operating temperature and performance and is analyzed for water-savings using an evaporation calculation adapted from the Penman–Monteith model. The results show that the foam-backed FPV had a lower operating temperature than conventional pontoon-based FPV, and thus a 3.5% higher energy output per unit power. Therefore, foam-based FPV provides a potentially profitable means of reducing water evaporation in the world’s at-risk bodies of fresh water. The case study of Lake Mead found that if 10% of the lake was covered with foam-backed FPV, there would be enough water conserved and electricity generated to service Las Vegas and Reno combined. At 50% coverage, the foam-backed FPV would provide over 127 TWh of clean solar electricity and 633.22 million m3 of water savings, which would provide enough electricity to retire 11% of the polluting coal-fired plants in the U.S. and provide water for over five million Americans, annually. Overall foam-backed FPV thus brings an even greater VOS than conventional PV and indicates that FPV will play a much larger role in our energy future.