Utilities Wake Up – Rooftop Solar to Rival Conventional Power

August 1, 2013


I’m shouting this wherever I go. There is a revolution in energy production technology happening right now – it will be as disruptive to the utility industry as the internet has been to the communication industry. If states, utilities, and regulators don’t develop coherent strategies very soon to cope with unprecedented change, we are going to see a major economic train wreck within the decade over much of the country.


For years, power companies have watched warily as solar panels have sprouted across the nation’s rooftops. Now, in almost panicked tones, they are fighting hard to slow the spread.

Alarmed by what they say has become an existential threat to their business, utility companies are moving to roll back government incentives aimed at promoting solar energy and other renewable sources of power. At stake, the companies say, is nothing less than the future of the American electricity industry.

According to the Energy Information Administration, rooftop solar electricity — the economics of which often depend on government incentives and mandates — accounts for less than a quarter of 1 percent of the nation’s power generation.

And yet, to hear executives tell it, such power sources could ultimately threaten traditional utilities’ ability to maintain the nation’s grid.

“We did not get in front of this disruption,” Clark Gellings, a fellow at the Electric Power Research Institute, a nonprofit arm of the industry, said during a panel discussion at the annual utility convention last month. “It may be too late.”

Advocates of renewable energy — not least solar industry executives who stand to get rich from the transformation — say such statements are wildly overblown. For now, they say, the government needs to help make the economics of renewable power work for ordinary Americans. Without incentives, the young industry might wither — and with it, their own potential profits.

The battle is playing out among energy executives, lawmakers and regulators across the country.

Vote Solar:

Rooftop solar is helping Colorado families, schools and businesses take charge of their power supply and electricity bills like never before. This private investment in rooftop solar is helping build a cleaner, safer and more resilient energy supply for all Coloradoans. But the state’s largest power provider, Xcel Energy, is apparently not too happy about it.

The Colorado arm of Xcel just proposed a plan that could soon make solar a bad deal for customers in its service territory. Xcel is attempting to try to roll back the state’s successful net metering policy, which allows solar customers to get credit on their energy bills for power they deliver to the grid. If you live in Colorado, help us speak out against this utility power grab!

This is becoming a familiar story: utilities are using rate design proposals to downgrade the customer economics of going solar in an attempt to prevent more of their customers from being able to generate their own power. Instead of engaging in a thoughtful conversation about how the solar industry and Xcel can work together to make rooftop solar an important and a more valuable part of their power supply mix, Xcel is simply trying to get rid of what they see as competition – customer generated solar power. We hope that they will change their tune and sit down at the table for a real conversation.

Daily Tech:

NYT reports that from 2010 to 2012, the amount of solar installed each year has increased by 160 percent.

At present, 43 states, the District of Columbia and four territories offer incentives for renewable energy in some form or another.

Solar proponents add that solar customers deserve payment and incentives for their efforts because making more power closer to where it is used (when resold to local utility companies) can alleviate stress on the grid — making it reliable. It also helps utilities by relieving them from having to build infrastructure and sizable generators.

However, utility companies feel differently. Their argument is that solar customers, at some point, may stop paying for electricity, which means they also stop paying for the grid. This shifts the costs to other non-solar customers.

According to California’s three major utility companies, they could lose as much as $1.4 billion in annual revenue to solar customers when the state’s subsidy program fills up to full capacity. This means that about 7.6 million non-soalr customers would have to make up for that, paying as much as $185 per year each.

This leads to something utility companies call the “death spiral.” This refers to the costs being shifted to non-solar customers, and because of this burden, they switch to solar-powered rooftops — making utility companies’ troubles even worse.

For that reason, utilities have requested that lawmakers limit those who can participate in such programs, including net metering.

Some utility companies are adding rooftop solar to their services, such as Dominion in Virginia. But not all are willing to adapt, and while solar still only amounts to a small percentage of power generation in the U.S., it seems utilities are looking to prevent the renewable energy emergence from spreading.

16 Responses to “Utilities Wake Up – Rooftop Solar to Rival Conventional Power”

  1. In many ways this is a great news item. But it’s clouded by something I read earlier today from here http://damnthematrix.wordpress.com/2013/08/01/nothing-we-do-is-sustainable-been-saying-it-for-years-now/

    From which I quote:

    Solar panels. The very latest in sustainability fashion. And in true sustainability style, incredibly destructive of life on earth. Where do these things come from? You’re supposed to believe that they are made out of nothing, a free, non-polluting source of electricity.

    If you dare to ask where solar panels come from, and how they are made, its not hard to uncover the truth. Solar panels are made of metals, plastics, rare earths, electronic components. They require mining, manufacturing, war, waste, pollution. Millions of tons of lead are dumped into rivers and farmland around solar panel factories in China and India, causing health problems for the human and natural communities who live there. Polysilicon is another poisonous and polluting waste product from manufacturing that is dumped in China. The production of solar panels causes nitrogen trifluoride (NF3) to be emitted into the atmosphere. This gas has 17 000 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.

    Rare earths come from Africa, and wars are raged over the right to mine them. People are being killed so you can have your comfortable Sustainability. The panels are manufactured in China. The factories emit so much pollution that people living nearby become sick. Lakes and rivers become dead from the pollution. These people cannot drink the water, breathe the air or farm the land, as a direct result of solar panel manufacturing. Your sustainability is so popular in China that villagers mobilise in mass protest against the manufacturers. They are banding together to break into the factories and destroy equipment, forcing the factories to shut down. They value their lives more than sustainability for the rich.

    Panels last around 30 years, then straight to landfill. More pollution, more waste. Some parts of solar panels can be recycled, but some can’t, and have the bonus of being highly toxic. To be recycled, solar panels are sent to majority-world countries where low-wage workers are exposed to toxic substances while disassembling them. The recycling process itself requires energy and transportation, and creates waste products.

    Solar panel industries are owned by Siemens, Samsung, Bosch, Sharp, Mitsubishi, BP, and Sanyo, among others. This is where solar panel rebates and green power bills are going. These corporations thank you for your sustainable dollars.

    • dillweed7 Says:

      A lot of finger pointing in those comments, I don’t doubt they are true. However, the question that comes to mind is, How would this compare to coal? The answer, Insignificantly.

      The comments are one-sidedly derisive. Millions of tons of lead. Seems doubtful.

      If you’re going to make an omelet, you’re going to have to break some eggs.

      A sustainable omelet will always be better than a coal omelet.

  2. Gingerbaker Says:

    I can’t decide if everything or only most of what you egested onto this thread is a stinking puddle of vomit. Well, close enough to all of it, so I am going to ignore you from now on, if possible.

  3. greenman3610 Says:

    Don’t be clouded. that’s just bullshit.
    Right. Our wars were fought over sunshine and rare earths. Does this sound correct to you? really?


    An exhaustive study of a wide range of conflicts over thousands of years has found that rising temperatures are inevitably linked to an increase in violence.
    LONDON, 1 August – Stand by for more violence. As planetary temperatures rise, so does the likelihood of murder, rape and domestic violence, as well as civil war, ethnic bloodshed and invasion, the collapse of government and even the collapse of civilisation.
    Three US scientists report today that they analysed 60 studies by 190 scholars published in 26 journals of 45 different conflicts around the world, and spanning thousands of years of human history, and came to one grim, clear conclusion.
    With every significant shift in temperature there was an increased risk of social or societal violence, they report in the journal Science.
    The studies they analysed were drawn from climatology, archaeology, economics, political science and psychology: once they had examined the data and used a common statistical framework to look at the pattern of outcomes, they found increased temperature or extended drought as significant factors.
    They found spikes of violence as the thermometer soared in India and in Australia; increased assaults in the US and in Tanzania; ethnic violence in Europe and South Asia, land invasions in Brazil, and civil conflict throughoutthe tropics. Temperatures even played a role in the collapse of the Chinese empire and of Mayan civilisation.
    The authors specifically looked to see if there could be a link between climate and conflict, within three very different categories. These included personal violence, such as rape, assault, murder and domestic violence; intergroup violence and political instability; and institutional breakdowns such as abrupt changes in government or even the collapse of a civilisation. They found a connection in all three types of conflict.

  4. andrewfez Says:


    Republican mayor or Lancaster, CA is trying to put up more solar in his town than the the whole place uses. From the article:

    ‘The biggest power payoff came with the school system. After the Lancaster school board rejected an offer from SolarCity, saying it was unaffordable, the city created a municipal utility. It bought 32,094 panels, had them installed on 25 schools, generated 7.5 megawatts of power and sold the enterprise to the school district for 35 percent less than it was paying for electricity at the time. Another 8 megawatts now come from systems operating at the local high school and Antelope Valley College.

    Not surprisingly, the private companies in Lancaster’s collection of public-private partnerships praise him. “It’s so business friendly here, it’s not even funny,” said Jim Cahill, a regional vice president at SolarCity.

    “A lot of what we’re doing appears to be public relations,” the mayor conceded. “It has that taint to it. But what we’re doing is scalable and portable.” Lancaster is already marketing its power to other municipalities.

    Global warming, the mayor said, will eventually persuade others to realize that locally generated renewable energy may provide a safety net as the cost of cooling desert homes goes up.

    Is global warming indeed a threat? Absolutely, he said. “I may be a Republican. I’m not an idiot.”

    Boldened stuff is my doing.

  5. Jean Mcmahon Says:

    I wonder if this Green economy is so perfect ..If Greenman says Bull to the response by Paul,I will pay attention how about a climate crock on the topic?

    • greenman3610 Says:

      there’s no perfect economy, but there are ways to improve on what we have – occasionally in quantum leaps. I’ll be doing more on solutions and the green economy soon.

  6. Bruce Miller Says:

    America Adapts
    My favourite cut and paste from the internet:
    “Had the $4 Trillions+ spent on Iraq, been spent even only on conventional Solar/Thermal development of South Western U.S.A. – Today, Americans would receive a huge ROI ( “Return On Investment”) in cheap electricity, in place of horrendous tax rates to service unpayable war debt to China. Americans would be gainfully working, using this renewable, perpetual, eternal, clean, radiation free, radioactive waste free, domestic, electricity source – to compete in world markets with well priced products, to irrigate dry lands, to heat and cool homes, and much less foreign oil would have be imported, fewer “Parasite Nations” supported. This is the lost “opportunity cost” for having Saddam’s scrotum on the Bushes mantlepiece? Shiite eh!”
    P.S., (Oil, gas, wells do go dry, not really sourced from an eternal pipe up &Allah’s-ass, as some believe – But, the Sun never stops shining, Wind blows forever)
    U.S.A. cannot continue printing “Funny Money” with no product, resource, material, backing, forever, a longer time than Zimbabwe perhaps, but, has it gone on long enough . . . That is the key question?
    China and the Yuan are looking better every day, especially to Pan Eurasian Alliance countries? For a fair trade? Bombing Iraq back to the tenth century did not help, nor will bombing Iran back to the tenth century, as Israel vengefully demands . . . as we have seen, the oil belongs to the highest bidder on the world markets, a corporate affair . . . not the dead Americans in Far-off-is-tan, not the live ones at the local American pumps, but to the Chinese citizen willing and employed and able to out bid his American counter-part at the pumps. China promises the end of the American petrol-dollar’s energy monopolies on enriched uranium and oil energy domination of the world with its Thorium LFTR technologies, debuted and covered over in U.S.A. in 1968, and about to debut in refined form in China in 2017. Already, China’s pebble bed gas reactors challenge American designs. How did that happen?
    Are Asians really winning the world wide energy wars? Will their Thorium LFTR technologies, promising 99% efficiencies and no appreciable waste, destroy the U.S.A. as she flounders on enriched uranium processes and oil for energy? Will Asian and European base energy sources: Solar, Wind, Wave, Hydro,Tidal, Geothermal, Biological and domestic in origin, beat out the enriched Uranium colossus designed to support an impossibly energy extravagant American Dream Lifestyle? Can the more expensive to extract oil and gas possibly support a lesser dream for America? My Question: Are Americans far too energy intensive than their outputs merit? Is this why China surges forward? Can Americans adapt to the new energy realities? Will they?

  7. Phillip Shaw Says:

    Not all utilities are scared of PV energy. Austin Energy is actively encouraging residential and business solar arrays because they view solar as a demand peak shaving technology – minimizing their need to use expensive ‘peaker plants’ or to buy peak energy through ERCOT. The 2013 ERCOT peak power price cap is $5,000/MWh (yes, that’s $5/kWh!), and the price cap will rise to $9,000/MWh in 2015. Since Austin Energy can only charge us consumers around $0.11/kWh the economic benefits to them is obvious.

    And standalone PV is no threat to their base load power market. Consumers still consume at night and during poor weather. But if PV continues to grow at the current rates, and especially if consumers add storage to their PV installations then the situation will change.

    I expect many utilities will change their business model, ‘unbundling’ it so to speak, so that consumers will have a monthly connection charge and a charge for the net energy used. Even if the net energy bill is zero, the connection charge will cover the cost of utility infrastructure. And I expect to see more ‘time-of-day’ rate charges with peak power costing the consumer far more than off-peak power.

  8. […] I’ve posted several times, and I’m repeating every where I go, that we are heading for a electric utility train wreck in this country if we do not reconfigure our regulatory and pricing structure for the grid to reflect the emerging disruptive effects of solar and renewable technology. […]

  9. Well, and solar is great, and to the extent it replaces non baseline power, it’s a good thing, but what about power at night? We don’t know how to store it (we don’t even know where to find enough lead to make enough batteries, for instance), and the sun doesn’t shine at night.

    It is not the whole answer, but as it gets closer, it will make a mess of how the grid runs. We need to get that figured out.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      you are correct that we have a lot to figure out – and we need to urge utilities, regulators, and our legislatures to get the lead out and make room for solar, or there will be a train wreck within a decade over much of the US. Utilities will go into “death spirals”.

  10. sdekanic Says:

    Reblogged this on bgb.

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