Please join us in congratulating Ariel Horowitz from MassCEC, winner of our latest Genius Award. Ariel’s job is to look into the future and de-risk future solar and microgrid projects and encourage innovative approaches and partnerships. Her work helps our industry continue to add jobs and grow.

We asked Ariel to share some details about her work at MassCEC. Her answers provide a glimpse of where our industry is headed.

Why did you decide to apply for the Genius Award?

Ariel: MassCEC  is a quasi-state agency focused on building a thriving, Net-Zero-compliant economy for Massachusetts (MA). I lead teams working on three different areas: (1) innovation funding for startups and researchers; (2) market development for clean transportation; (3) Net Zero Grid, which focuses on enabling the electrical grid to support our path to decarbonization. Building out that last area of work has been a big focus of mine as someone with a background in electric industry regulation, policy, and economics. Part of MassCEC’s role as an agency is to convene stakeholders and we’ve been able to grow our role as an intermediary between renewable energy developers, customers, and utilities. It’s important for us an agency and for me personally to design programming that enables more win/win projects for all renewable energy stakeholders in MA — integrating storage, reducing interconnection burden, and helping take full advantage of the value renewables can bring to the grid.

Ribbon-cutting for one of the first battery demonstration projects in Massachusetts under the ACES program

Why is your work important for the industry?

Ariel: As the solar industry matures, more complex project types (due to grid saturation, or pairing solar with storage) are needed to add more capacity to the grid or provide incremental benefit for customers. Our work at MassCEC work helps de-risk these projects by funding pilot/demo stages, and finding the market barriers that impede project development. Sometimes we see problems that crop up consistently across a lot of different projects – interconnection is a great example, or figuring out the cost profile and utility interaction for projects that have a resiliency benefit. When we see those issues, our role is to help find solutions that can move the industry forward to the benefit of developers, utilities, and customers. We know that faster development cycles and lower project costs mean better returns for the industry and for customers and better progress towards meeting our Net Zero goals.

Cost breakdown for microgrid projects studied under MassCEC’s Community Microgrid program.

What work are you most excited about right now?


I’m very pleased with the progress we’ve made building our Net Zero Grid work over the time since I’ve been at MassCEC. We use that heading for projects help enable a clean generation fleet and the levels of electrification we need to reach Net Zero. This has been a multi-year effort across several programs, starting with the Advancing Commonwealth Energy Storage (ACES) Program.

In ACES, we collaborated with the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources to fund more than 20 battery demonstration projects across the state, totaling over 30 MW of storage capacity. Since those projects started coming online, they’ve generated over $2.8 million in savings and revenue and reduced the ISO New England system peak by over 8 MW. We expect millions of dollars in additional savings and benefits from those projects over their lifetimes.

Around the time that we awarded the ACES grants in late 2017/early 2018, we also kicked off a round of 14 microgrid feasibility studies under our Community Microgrid program to think about how storage could contribute to a more resilient energy system. In 2019, we ran a series of stakeholder workshops around storage and microgrid issues, convening developers, customers, and utility representatives to move the conversation forward about interconnecting storage and making sure ratepayers could benefit from that technology. Our utility regulator, the Department of Public Utilities, took up that thread with a docket on interconnection issues, including for energy storage, later that year.

In 2020 we started the Clean Energy and Resiliency Program (CLEAR), adding another 9 community-focused resiliency studies, some of which are starting to roll in now and really focus on actionable steps communities can take to make critical facilities more resilient using clean resources. As part of that program, we’re also funding a resiliency toolkit for communities and a prototype “resiliency certification” so that emergency responders can have better visibility on who still has service during a grid outage. This year we’re just kicking off a great project, that we’re calling our Net Zero Grid Distribution Planning Lab. We’re collaborating with Eversource and National Grid on this program, thinking about what the tools are that can move the distribution grid toward where we need it to be for net zero.

We’re looking for ways to incorporate new ways to use traditional utility tools and cutting-edge technologies and approaches to planning that can reduce costs and speed up our path towards electrifying heating and transportation. That solicitation is open now and we’re so excited to see what comes out of it!

Looking Ahead to the Future

What do you hope to accomplish over the next 1-3 years?

Ariel: Massachusetts has ambitious, nation-leading emission reduction targets that call for deep cuts in carbon from throughout our economy. We are at a critical moment in time for meeting those goals. We know that we need to radically transform our energy use if we hope to stave off cataclysmic climate change. This will include asking even more of our electric system to approach 100% clean energy, as well as electrifying transportation and the built environment. An electric grid that can support this transition is the linchpin of our decarbonization strategy and we need the grid to be an asset and not an impediment to meeting our goals. Getting there will require all of us working together and sharing in the benefits. Without a true commitment to equity and inclusion our efforts are guaranteed to fail – everyone needs to be part of the transition, we can’t reach our targets if we leave people behind. My vision over the next few years is to help to catalyze an environment that creates win/win/win opportunities for utilities, innovators, developers, and consumers and that specifically and intentionally ensures that our efforts can bring the benefits of decarbonization to all citizens of the Commonwealth.

A table discussion with renewable developers, fire departments, analysts, and other stakeholders at a MassCEC stakeholder session on storage and resiliency, 2019

Genius Grant Update

We’ve received so many impressive applications for the 2021 Genius Award. It’s not possible for us to fund all of the incredible people who have worked so hard to innovate. This program was so fun and inspiring that we’re definitely going to do it again next year.

With sincere gratitude to all entrepreneurs and innovators,

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