While the solar industry is currently abuzz with the latest 2015 and forecast 2016 numbers for strong growth, there lays a very real risk to nascent residential solar power in the United States; Net Energy Metering (NEM) policy changes, and strong lobbying efforts by incumbent utility companies. Just as clean solar energy generation is beginning to take hold in the US, albeit from a small base (around 1% in absolute terms), significant policy headwinds appear on the horizon.
As any owner of solar panels will tell you, it's a pretty cool moment when you see your electric meter running backwards for the first time. Not only is it fun to witness your solar home energy system in action; after all those years of paying the utility, it feels good to sit there and watch the utility pay you.
In a nearly unanimous decision yesterday, the California Assembly passed a bill that would allow a greater number of people in the state who produce their own solar power to sell the excess electricity to their utility company. Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner's (D-Berkeley) bill, AB 510, raises the Golden State's net metering program capacity from 2.5 to 5 percent, a move that supporters say will result in wider adoption of solar technology and offset high electricity costs--and will perhaps even open up the solar market to those who had been formerly closed off to it. Governor Schwarzenegger has every intention to sign the bill, according to Rachel Arrezola, a spokeswoman for the Governor.
Tomorrow, California's state legislature will vote on lifting the current cap on the amount of energy in the state's energy portfolio that can come from net-metered solar installations. Set at 2.5 percent, the net metering cap once seemed generous but now seems low--dangerously low, in fact, for the California solar industry. Successful solar incentives have encouraged nearly 460 MW of solar installations just within the service territories of the three investor-owned utilities (for more on the California Solar Initiative, start here).
A joint venture of solar panel manufacturer Suniva and storage developer GS Battery aims to bring battery back-up (but still grid-tied) solar into the limelight once again. Inefficient battery storage has encouraged small-scale solar generation to rely entirely on the grid for auxiliary power. Battery systems can cost nearly twice as much as straight grid-tied systems, depending on the needs of the system, and the batteries themselves are often not eligible for cost-reducing solar incentives. (Though beginning this year, battery systems are eligible for the 30 percent federal ITC.) They also take up a ton of space, which is something many homes and small commercial installation sites don't have on hand. The Suniva-GS system will use deep-cycle nanocarbon batteries to achieve high performance. The demo system will be 30 kw in capacity with a 3,000-amp hour battery component.
Yesterday saw a surprisingly positive new chapter in California's net metering saga roll out. PG&E is voluntarily expanding its net metering program in the absence of new legislation that would mandate such a move. PG&E customers can continue to explore solar as a valuable investment for some time to come now--without this move, many were predicting that PG&E would reach its net metering cap by first or second quarter 2010.
Armed with a net-metering agreement and enough grid-tied solar panels, you could literally eliminate your monthly electricity bills. Poof! Gone. But, as this story from KMGH Denver demonstrates, you'd still need the utility's infrastructure to make the arrangement work.
Ever since the inception of its highly successful $3.3 billion solar subsidy program, California has been continually touted by solar power enthusiasts—ourselves included—as the model state for renewable energy adoption in the United States. As the LA Times reports this week, however, not everything is coming up roses in solar country. Due to the overwhelming success of the program, the state utilities are toeing the legal limit for the amount of electricity they can buy back from customers. Parts of northern and central California served by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. may hit the limit by the end of this year, whereas the areas served by Southern California Edison Co. and San Diego Gas & Electric Co. are in less danger of doing so. What’s a supporter of clean energy to do?
Two bills that would improve the affordability and accessibility of solar in California have met with oppostion from an unexpected quarter: Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), a utility company that has previously been a champion of solar within the state. The utility, in fact, manages the impressive and complicated state-wide California Solar Initiative solar PV rebate program. Everyone knew the bills under consideration would displease utilities state-wide, but outright opposition took the bills' supporters by surprise, it seems.
There's a big to-do at the moment about a certain state bill making the rounds of the California legislature. Bill AB-920 (full text here), sponsored by Democrat Assemblyman Jared Huffman, proposes revisions to the state's current net metering laws. But before I go into that, let's do a real quick crash course in net metering. The setting: your solar electric (PV) system generates electricity. Now, one of two situations apply: