There is a national debate going on in the US over homeowner and business rooftop solar value to the power grid and how it should be billed. What? Penalize me for adding solar to my home? Well, I fully understand the issue that utilities face regarding a larger burden on the utility’s traditional customers, some who are low income and cannot afford solar installations, who do not have rooftop solar panels installed. Rooftop solar panel users have higher demand when the sun goes away especially at night or during cloudy days. Studies show that average peak demand drops only slightly with solar customers. They do purchase much less electricity but still require about the same capacity from the power company as it relates to power plants and transmission lines to meet their peak demand.
In this regard, some utilities are placing solar customers on a plan that includes a demand charge that increases depending on the maximum amount of electricity they draw in any 30 minute segment during peak hours in a month. Utilities claim that the extra fees that solar customers are charged can be offset by customers facing panels West to generate more electricity in the afternoon when demand peaks, or by offsetting peak demand with batteries or reducing appliance usage at those times.
Well, I’m sorry, to me this just amounts to penalizing the solar customers for trying to go “green” and help eliminate carbon emissions, especially in light of the fact that most utilities have stopped incentives for ratepayers to add solar to their homes. On the bright side, there is a 30% federal tax credit and solar installation prices have dropped, but what I do not understand is why a high tech organization like a utility company cannot come up with something better on their end to offset any ratepayer inequities and higher demand times. To me it’s an engineering problem waiting to be solved. Maybe by some innovative company out there.
And what about the Smart Grid?
One possible solution to increased peak demands of rooftop solar customers is new inverter and battery backup storage technology improvements becoming readily available in the US. Right now it seems the new innovations do not exist off-the-shelf in the US but does exist in foreign countries in Europe and Japan for example.
And, yes, we need to be aware of our peak demand and try to control it, but unfortunately that will only happen with more smart meters installed at the customer homes. Privacy concerns are a big issue. Although millions of smart meters have been installed across the US, many still do not have them—I don’t! We need to wait until the power utility comes into more neighborhoods—a pretty slow process right now.
Tell me what you think about this situation? Can you think of any solutions?