TODAY’S STUDY: A Defense Of Rooftop Solar
Affordable, Clean, Reliable Energy; A better system created by the people, for the people.
Lynn Jurich, April 2018 (Sunrun)
(Editor’s note: This is a passionate defense of rooftop solar that deserves to be heard but it contains factual inaccuracies)
This paper details the trends that are converging to develop a better energy system. A system that will radically remake our dated, economically inefficient existing energy infrastructure into a more affordable, clean, and reliable system that puts people at the center of energy production and consumption.
We shed light on the political and regulatory decisions we are making today that will determine our future, and how quickly and cost-effectively we can move to a superior, cleaner energy system. A pressing question is whether incumbent powers will allow this transition to happen swiftly and without wasting significant capital on rebuilding yesterday’s centralized utility infrastructure.
After 10 years of living and breathing the home solar and battery market, witnessing rapid technology developments, engaging policymakers, watching special interest groups get nervous, understanding the energy customer, and analyzing future trends, this paper summarizes what we’ve learned.
Most Americans are surprised to learn that the cost of moving electricity through transmission lines, transformers, and local power lines is greater than the cost of generating the electricity itself. Many power lines are old and frail and in need of massive upgrades. That means more power outages from extreme weather events and even higher bills to upgrade infrastructure. How can we reduce these costs and improve reliability while lowering our dependence on harmful fossil fuels? We can put the clean power where it’s used: solar power on roofs and batteries in garages. Households and businesses that adopt solar and batteries save money for themselves and their communities, reduce pollution, and increase system reliability and resilience for everyone. They also benefit from the power stored in their batteries, keeping their families and employees comfortable and safe during power outages.
Let’s Stop The War On Solar
Utility investors lose money when they cannot build new power plants because people adopt solar. This means powerful interests are motivated to make it unnecessarily difficult and punitive for households to produce their own clean power. In 2017 alone, in 250 different places across the country, proposals were put forth to increase rates for households that choose to adopt solar.10 A recent report found that “a national network of utility interest groups and fossil fuel-backed think tanks has provided the funding, model legislation and political cover to discourage the growth of rooftop solar power.”11 Policies that support consumer choice and home solar are under attack across the United States.12
These proposals attack a clean energy resource that is overwhelmingly popular with the American public.13 They are introduced from a place of fear and often with the following static logic: even though the penetration of home solar is low today, as people generate more of their own electricity from the solar panels on their roofs, utility revenues will decline, and, unless the utility can find a more efficient way to operate, the remaining utility customers will have to pay more for the powerlines to keep the system running. That would increase the incentive for the remaining customers to leave. This is known as the utility “death spiral”.
This reasoning fails to consider the overwhelming benefits of local energy. Without considering benefits, the punitive measures against solar are more about the threat of competition and reduced revenues than they are about protecting consumers from high prices. Most of the research suggests that solar customers already save utilities and energy consumers more money than they cost them.14
We will likely invest enough dollars to rebuild our entire energy system in the coming decades. investing in a system that puts energy consumers at the center, with the clean, local resources available today, can save us from investing in yesterday’s redundant technology. It will also build the foundation for a more efficient, resilient system.
Most dangerously, the constant and premature changes to the consumer’s solar value proposition removes the market stability required for innovation and the novel solutions technology will inevitably bring.
Utilities cannot be relied upon to drive this consumer centered clean energy future. Even if they wanted to, utility investors are risk-averse and unlikely to support a program that could cause a short-term loss in revenue and dividends. Case in point: In 2016, utilities spent $20 million on an anti-home solar ballot initiative in Florida - one of the nation’s sunniest states that has 22 of the top 25 cities most threatened by sea level rise.15
Let The Market Work
Let’s stop this war on affordable, clean, reliable energy and create a market for innovation. These resources should be viewed as an opportunity. We should welcome and encourage power created by the people, for the people and give the market time to develop. Americans want clean power and backup power during outages, and they want the freedom to control their monthly energy costs. Let’s incentivize it to happen quickly, allow competition to lower costs for the whole system, and accelerate the adoption of a better system.
Fortunately, the building blocks are in place. There are many positive case studies to share and some states are already drawing the roadmap for the future. The faster we do it, the more local jobs we create, and the faster we can get to a clean energy system. We’ll avoid tearing up our land with polluting fossil fueled power plants and power lines that will become obsolete in the near future.
We have incredible potential before us. Solar energy generated just 2% of U.S. electricity last year;25 home solar alone could meet 40% of total U.S. electricity demand.26 As we are witnessing in California and New York today, regulators are creating mechanisms to utilize homes and businesses with solar and batteries as alternatives to building new fossil fuel power plants, transmission, and distribution infrastructure.27 For example, California’s grid operator has a new plan that saves 2.6 billion dollars in future costs by directing utilities to tap into home solar and efficiency resources, rather than building transmission projects.28 When the sun is shining, homes and businesses can store extra power in their batteries and send it to the community when and where it is most needed. Households that adopt solar make the system more affordable for everyone – even for those that don’t go solar.
The cost of this future is significantly lower than the alternative. This future will meet the values and expectations of Americans, and accelerate the retirement of harmful and polluting power plants to the great benefit of future generations…