We generally counsel our children against the urge for instant gratification. Sometimes though, being instantly gratified is a good thing. When a customer is applying for an HVAC system or Solar PV incentive, getting the cash quickly to them is considered good customer service. However, there are many verification steps that a program manager must review before approving payment. The program manager also depends on trade allies or equipment installers to correctly submit all the necessary documentation. While the processing time will never be zero, it is possible to reduce application processing time dramatically. Coupling two ANB Systems’ products, eTRACK+, and DRM can reduce the amount of time an application is in the work queue. A utility recently reported that using these systems has reduced processing time for distributed generation (DG) interconnections from an average of about eighteen days to eighteen minutes, most of which was spent by the applicant signing documents, a near 99.9% reduction in processing time. Many of these applications were processed by the system with no touch from the utility staff.
In this utility’s case, the DG installers electronically submit an electrical one-line diagram, a site sketch, and a completed interconnection agreement. eTRACK+ and DRM automatically review the documents for compliance with utility installation requirements and assigns a code of “green,” “amber,” or “red.” eTRACK+ gives the installer immediate feedback about missing information and will not allow any further action until it reaches a green code. An amber application indicates that the application is missing data such as panel or inverter manufacturer name or model number. If the application is red, the process is stopped at that point. A project with a red flag is missing or has an incorrect customer account number. However, if the application is green, it proceeds to the transformer load study without manual intervention. What happens next is significant. eTRACK+ verifies that the transformer serving the customer can operate safely with the DG system. If it falls within the utility guidelines, the interconnection agreement will be prepared for approval. When the installer submits data correctly on the first try (about 20% do this), the total time elapsed from the installer submitting the project to the interconnection agreement generated is only a few seconds.
eTRACK+ facilitates this rapid approval, but the utility must undertake two significant activities. First, have a streamlined, understandable workflow. Second, train the installer community on the online application system, and that correct information leads to faster approval. Having a workflow that logically proceeds from the first steps to the last and reducing redundant information requests requires the utility to understand the utility’s business requirements. Outreach and communications to the installer community about the benefits of the online system will gain their buy-in. They must see that a little more work on the front end will lead to quick approval and the sooner they may complete project installation. As an industry, we may never get to the point of a 100% “touch-free application,” but we are getting very close.