California Utilities Face “Rooftop Revolution”
October 14, 2013
California’s three biggest utilities are sparring with their own customers about systems that store energy from the sun, opening another front in the battle that’s redefining the mission of electricity generators.
Edison International (EIX), PG&E Corp. and Sempra Energy (SRE) said they’re putting up hurdles to some battery backups wired to solar panels because they can’t be certain the power flowing back to the grid from the units is actually clean energy.
The dispute threatens the state’s $2 billion rooftop solar industry and indicates the depth of utilities’ concerns about consumers producing their own power. People with rooftop panels are already buying less electricity, and adding batteries takes them closer to the day they won’t need to buy from the local grid at all, said Ben Peters, a government affairs analyst at Mainstream Energy Corp., which installs solar systems.
“The utilities clearly see rooftop solar as the next threat,” Peters said from his office in Sunnyvale, California. “They’re trying to limit the growth.”
California is the largest of the 43 states encouraging renewables by requiring utilities to buy electricity from consumer solar installations, typically at the same price that customers pay for power from the grid. The policy, known asnet metering, offers a way for households to reduce their bills. It underpinned a 78 percent surge in the state’s residential installations in the second quarter from a year earlier, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.
Solar power represents a change in electricity that has a potentially disruptive impact on power in both the literal sense (meaning how we get electricity) and in the figurative sense of how we distribute wealth and power in our society. Fossil fuels have led to the concentration of power whereas solar’s potential is really to give power over to the hands of people. This shift has huge community benefits while releasing our dependency on the centralized, monopolized capital of the fossil fuel industry. So it’s revolutionary in the technological and political sense.
The tensions between decentralized forms of energy like rootop solar or small-scale wind and traditional large-scale utilities is nothing new, but as the crisis of climate change has spurred a global grassroots movement push for a complete withdrawal from the fossil fuel and nuclear paradigm that forms the basis of the current electricity grid, these tensions are growing.
Below, Lester Brown on the vision of a Green future: