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You might assume that the solar energy industry represents one united group, working together in harmony towards a renewable energy future.  It’s a beautiful thought, but evidently this is not the case.  Within the solar industry there is conflict arising between rooftop solar and large scale solar developers -- namely First Solar -- which see rooftop as a threat to its future success.

You might assume that the solar energy industry represents one united group, working together in harmony towards a renewable energy future.  It’s a beautiful thought, but evidently this is not the case.  Within the solar industry there is conflict arising between rooftop solar and large scale solar developers -- namely First Solar -- which see rooftop as a threat to its future success.

James Hughes, the CEO of First Solar, a solar panel manufacturer and PV power plant developer based in Tempe Arizona, has come out publicly against net metering.  Despite the fact thatstudies show distributed solar provides $34 million in annual benefits to all Arizona Public Service ratepayers, Hughes makes false claims that net metering is a subsidy “funded by all other utility customers who must pay proportionately more in rates.”  He uses false information to make a direct attack on his own industry.

You might ask why First Solar has such strong opposition to the success of rooftop solar.  The answer to that question can be found in the company’s 2012 Annual Report, in which it identifies rooftop solar as an obstacle that is likely to get in the way of the execution of its Long-Term Strategic Plan.  The rooftop solar market is not part of First Solar’s business strategy, and the company admits that it will "have a material adverse effect on our business."

In order to protect itself from the perceived threat of rooftop solar, First Solar is filing comments against net metering in states like Arizona and Nevada where a significant portion of its large-scale project portfolio is located, and where the preservation of net metering policies is up for evaluation.  Nevada is the site of two of the company’s large scale projects, which means the utility in that state is a major customer for First Solar. Comments filed in Nevada by First Solar advocate for thwarting the growth of their own industry by attacking residential solar.  Similarly, First Solar filed comments with the Arizona Corporation Commission on September 18, 2013, in which it claims that the spike in rooftop PV growth has led to a financial burden on ratepayers and utilities.  As I mentioned above, studies show this is not true at all.

Rooftop solar’s popularity among ratepayers and utilities does not come exclusively from the fact that it is a renewable source of energy.  In addition to societal benefits, it is also a form of distributed generation – which means that it is energy produced close to where it is used. In areas where the grid is constrained and electricity demand is on the rise, utilities have the potential to save millions by avoiding the costs of paying for new power lines and purchasing more electricity. Utility scale solar just cannot compete with that.

Originally posted to BaileyA on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 03:33 PM PDT.

Also republished by Kosowatt.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Meanwhile in the UK (3+ / 0-)

    Ikea starts selling panels for $9k (US)  which, sold here, would handle (by my math) 28 amps a piece. . .  that + net metering + tax rebates would be a game changer. They're planning on rolling them out market by market. if it works, i will feel bad for people locked into 30 year lease plans on older panels.

    "We have the habeas corpus act, and we respect it." Dwight D. Eisenhower - November 23, 1953

    by malcolm on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 03:50:40 PM PDT

  •  Distributed is safer and more reliable, but (10+ / 0-)

    does not concentrate wealth and power in the hands of the wealthy and powerful. Look for all forms of distributed energy production to be a major battle.

    That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

    by enhydra lutris on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 03:57:37 PM PDT

  •  You know it occurred to me about the time we (8+ / 0-)

    spent $19000 for a 3.4kw, 14 panel system: panels made in Oregon, inverter, Fronius made in Germany, that we were a thorn in the side of centralized power providers, no matter the fuel source. How did we know this?

    Our own electric coop was discouraging us from deploying solar inspite of having 94% orientation for electrical generation and 96% for solar hot water.  We are generating an average of 4Mw/year with our little system and have some zero pay months. The Electric Coops in the NW lobby (yes with our coop dollars) the state legislatures, with success, to be excluded from rebate, and incentive programs. Their offset? no costs for rate increases to improve infrastructure and six cents (6¢) for each kilowatt hour. We can't break a $200/bill even in the coldest months with an old creaky house, all electric at 21,000 kwhrs/year.

    When I see those big desert arrays and know that the power they generate is owned by one entity, and often publicly traded, and has to be transmitted many miles to get to the energy users, I see vulnerability.

    With other efficiency improvements in our heating and appliances we have brought the 21000 kwhrs down to under 12000 kwhrs per year. So, savings aside, which don't count in a subsidized environment, we are doing well.

    Distributed solar and wind along with any large scale generation all have their place and we will need it all.

    Science is hell bent on consensus. Dr. Michael Crichton said “Let’s be clear: The work of science has nothing to do with consensus... which is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right,”

    by Regina in a Sears Kit House on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 04:25:11 PM PDT

    •  I'd think a 'thumb in the eye' of big utilities is (3+ / 0-)

      part of the appeal for going solar/wind for one's own needs. Not to mention freedom from widespread blackouts due to storms and such.

      So even if doing so is slightly more expensive than whatever is being provided by Big Electric, such advantages are priceless, and probably carry weight in some people's choice.


      Actual Democrats: the surest, quickest, route to More Democrats. And actually addressing our various emergencies.

      by Jim P on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 06:27:24 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  The rooftop solar that I researched here is all (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Bronx59, Jim P, JesseCW

        tied in to the electrical grid since batteries would add quite a bit to the cost.  Also, it allows for the net metering.  However, because it's tied in, if there's a blackout, it is also blacked out since it's a safety hazard to utility workers since it would otherwise be feeding power through the lines when they're expecting it to be off due to the blackout of the utility power.  I don't know the technical details, but I can understand that point.

        •  There seem to be new advances in battery tech (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          ColoTim, JesseCW

          being announced every few weeks. It'll be a while before any are commercial, but I do think that's only a matter of time.


          Actual Democrats: the surest, quickest, route to More Democrats. And actually addressing our various emergencies.

          by Jim P on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 07:18:15 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Household solar doesn't really require (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Jim P

            any great breakthroughs in battery tech.  Most people can spare the room for a battery shed.

            But there's about 5-15k investment needed, and it's not subsidized.

            http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/...

            You basically need a lot more expensive inverter.  Instead of just one that converts DC (from the panels) to AC, it has to be able to convert AC to DC to charge the batteries as well.

            High quality deep-cycle batteries run 300-600 each.  How many you want depends on what you want.  If you have solar water heat already, you probably just want to make sure food doesn't go bad and maybe that you can charge electronic toys.  While you can definitely go cheaper than the 2,000 dollar rack cited in the article, you do need a quality steel rack (at least 500).

            Add installation costs, and remember that there are no rebates.  

            If you're going to do it, do it in the initial install.  It saves thousands compared to doing it as an ad-on.

            A 6,000 dollar budget battery backup is a hell of a lot compared to a 400 dollar backup generator, unless you live somewhere you have to use it really frequently and fuel costs would actually be a concern.

            "But the traitors will pretend / that it's gettin' near the end / when it's beginning" P. Ochs

            by JesseCW on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 08:26:29 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  Most people who install rooftop solar aren't (0+ / 0-)

        protected at all from blackouts.  The power goes down, they're out of luck.  Without paying a good bit more for off-grid capabilities, you still need power coming in to function.

        However - I do know that in one community in southern Riverside County, they found that just 5% of homes having 5kwh capacity would eliminate the risk of brownouts in summer entirely.

        That's a big part of the upside in desert areas.  Grid infrastructure that would otherwise have to be upgraded extensively to deal with increasing AC demand can be left in place, because the hottest days are also the days the solar panels are cranking 98% efficiency.

        "But the traitors will pretend / that it's gettin' near the end / when it's beginning" P. Ochs

        by JesseCW on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 08:15:47 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Republished to Kosowatt. (3+ / 0-)

    Science is hell bent on consensus. Dr. Michael Crichton said “Let’s be clear: The work of science has nothing to do with consensus... which is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right,”

    by Regina in a Sears Kit House on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 04:32:46 PM PDT

  •  Utilities will change their fee structure (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ColoTim

    We have already seen this start in Europe which has more distributed power than the US. As roof top solar becomes more popular utilities will divide their monthly bill into two parts. A fixed fee for being connected to the grid and a second amount based on electricity usage. Utilities are guaranteed a certain revenue stream and profit. As more people lower their utility bill the revenues have to come from somewhere. Rooftop solar and other alternative energy applications tend to be installed by people with above average incomes, putting more pressure on higher power rates for middle class and poorer utility customers.

    If people want to not have a fixed monthly fee they will need to go completely off the grid.

    "let's talk about that"

    by VClib on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 04:38:35 PM PDT

  •  I'm all for Solar ... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Simplify, ColoTim, PeterHug

    and I hold no brief for First Solar.

    But I believe that net metering allows a residential user to use the grid as a free battery. You are time-shifting your surplus electricity. That free battery is not free - someone else has to pay for the grid. Typically, the cost of the "free battery" shows up as increased rates on those who don't have rooftop solar ...

    This may be perfectly legitimate because residential solar has a lot of social benefits. But net-metering does not come for free - someone else pays for it.

    •  Net metering allows a residential user (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ColoTim, JesseCW

      to use the grid as a battery - but not a free one.  The price for electricity going into the grid and coming out are generally not the same - precisely for the reasons you cite.

      Although I will say that if I can give the utility electricity during the day when they need it, and take it out at night when they have excess capacity, the utility is benefiting from the deal in the end.

    •  And the trade off in the south west is that (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      PeterHug, falconer520

      power companies don't need to have the reserve peak capacity they would otherwise need.

      Have 5% of users slap on solar panels means not having blackouts during the 10 hottest days of the year, and not having to build a couple bonus peak plants that sit idle 90% of the time.

      "But the traitors will pretend / that it's gettin' near the end / when it's beginning" P. Ochs

      by JesseCW on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 08:28:41 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Monthly fees (0+ / 0-)

      "Net metering" and similar programs vary significantly from state to state, as does utility regulation and billing generally.  Where I live, the power company charges a $25 monthly fee in addition to the per kwh charge for electricity used.  Thus if I used no power at all, I would still be paying $25 a month for that "battery".

      Here in North Carolina we have a program called NC Green Power.  (Note that this program was instituted back when we had Democratic governance; it is currently threatened by our now Republican government.)  The last time I checked, if I installed a grid-tied system, this is the program that I would have to go through for reimbursement for the power that I would provide to the grid.

      It's been a while since I looked into it, but if I recall correctly, the way the program works is that when you generate power that goes out onto the grid through your meter, the power company (again here at my house; this may not apply to the entire state) does not "net" this against your bill for usage; rather, you are paid for the power you generate by NC Green Power, which is a non-profit company.

      NC Green Power in turn gets the money they pay to you from donations.  I'm one of the people who make donations.  I signed up seven years ago to make donations to the program each month as part of my electric bill.  Each month when I pay my electric bill, there is an additional fee that goes directly to the NC Green Power fund, purchasing much more green power than I use in a month.  Thus, in effect, all of the electricity I use comes from clean, green, renewal sources, even though it comes from the grid.

      Thus here where I live, the people that pay for "net-metering" are the people that want to pay for it.

      But again, it varies state to state; and in many states these programs are being threatened not only by power companies as suggested in the diary, but also by Republican legislatures and governors.

      ______________
      Love one another

      by davehouck on Tue Oct 01, 2013 at 12:44:23 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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