Solar vs Utilities — Time to Call a Truce

4-28-2014 Solar vs Utilities — Time to Call a Truce

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Can there really be peace between the solar industry and the utilities? Right now some utility companies are lobbying for the taxation of solar energy as a way to push back against possible loss of revenue. While the solar industry is still small compared to oil and gas,  taxing of solar may have the potential to slow the growth of the industry. Keep in mind that the utility companies are not “evil” or “bad guys” and that they just feel threatened by the new kid on the block, so to speak. Solar is also not the enemy either, even though the utilities are portraying the use of solar energy as a possible threat. With a hundred year old business model maybe utilities should feel threatened. We also need to keep in mind that solar power is here to stay and one the fastest growing clean energy sources because it is environmentally friendly.

According to one of the world’s leading solar company CEOs, Arno Harris of Recurrent Energy, “the hype over solar’s threat to utilities is an exaggeration.” Utilities are worried that rooftop solar energy will cut into their profits, and a “death spiral” will result. In reality, solar power depends on the utilities. Harris commented on this when he said, “It’s inevitable that solar will become a bigger part of the energy mix and we need the utilities to help manage the grid as it does.” The article “Solar Industry’s Threat To Utilities Greatly Exaggerated, Says Solar CEO” from Clean Technica reports “many utilities have … come around and conceded that solar energy is a big part of the future of energy and they can help enable that future without killing themselves.” So why are utilities currently slowing down the implementation of solar energy?

Solar vs Utilities

Right now there is a war raging between the utilities and environmentalists. Millions of dollars are being spent by both sides to affect the laws for incorporating renewable energy into the grid. The utilities say that owners of rooftop solar panels use the grid when they need to, and don’t pay for the infrastructure upkeep, and are lobbying for the retraction of net metering, and imposing a fee on the owners. Meanwhile, owners of said solar panels are able to sell extra energy to utility companies, making solar energy more affordable. There is also the problem of utilities needing to upgrade infrastructure to handle two-way current. So what can be done? A company called Sunverge think they have the answer.

Smart Grid & Storage to the Rescue

Sunverge Energy is a startup in California, and they make solar batteries. The difference between the Sunverge batteries and other solar batteries is the multiple uses of the battery. Below is how the batteries are described in GreenTechMedia’s article “Will Utilities Control Behind-the-Meter Solar Batteries?”:

Sunverge assembles batteries from undisclosed partners (though Munson described them as top-tier suppliers), as well as inverters from Schneider Electric, into what is otherwise its own system. That includes its own local IT hardware and power electronics controls, as well as its cloud-based software platform, which keep real-time tabs on its solar generation and battery capacity at each networked Solar Integration System, and allows each unit to balance that combination to meet different needs, he said.

If the utilities see these batteries as an asset like Sunverge Energy hopes, then that will help utilities to make peace with solar energy. There is also the possibility of utilities using the new solar battery to manage peak energy, and make the whole grid more stable. The battery can also help to minimize the problem of solar energy being intermittent, and only available while the sun is out during the day.

Can there be peace between solar and utilities? In short, yes. Solar and utilities need to make peace to be profitable. Utilities need to change the way they think about solar, and embrace it as a profitable energy source. There is some work that needs to be done to ensure profits, like using batteries and a smarter grid, but it is possible to find a middle ground …and probably sooner than you think.

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