Solar contractors and customers alike are excited by a variety of factors that are making solar installations more cost-effective than ever before. Environmentalists certainly applaud this increasing move to renewable energy as well. However, for America’s utilities who are in the business of generating and selling electricity, such enthusiasm is muted. A recent Bloomberg article details the fight that many utility companies are putting up against homeowners who choose to install solar panels that connect to the electric grid.
Solar Moratorium In Hawaii
The combination of lowered solar panel costs and state and federal tax credits has made the move to solar economic no-brainer for many homeowners. But, some homeowners are finding that utility company service fees are offsetting the savings that they thought they would get by switching to solar. William Walker, and Oahu homeowner profiled by Bloomberg, found that his utility company outright refused to connect his home solar system to the electric grid. This moratorium on new connections has put Walker and many other Hawaiian residents into a sort of “solar limbo.” The immediate result for the Walkers is burdensome, to say the least. They are now paying their $400/month electric bill as well as the $305/month solar loan payment.
But it’s not just homeowners suffering under this limitation. Hawaiian solar contractors are also suffering the impact of HECO’s moratorium. Some solar contractors report a year-over-year sales decrease of about 50-percent.
Other Utilities Resisting As Well
In California, utility strategy has been slightly different. Some are pushing for “grid fees” that are estimated to potentially add $120 per year to a residential bill. If successful, this move could have a dampening effect on new solar installations as well. In Colorado, Excel Energy Inc. wants to cut the payments that it makes for excess solar power generated in half. It claims that such payouts represent an unfair subsidy to those with solar energy installations.
200,000 Installations in Two Years
Nonetheless, solar still maintains its momentum nationwide. Bloomberg states that approximately 200,000 homes and businesses in the country have gone to rooftop solar installations in just the past two years. The collective impact? About 3 GW of electricity; enough to replace 4 to 5 conventional coal plants. In October 2013, solar actually represented almost 3/4 of all new electrical capacity created in the United States.
Battery Energy Storage Now More Viable
The Bloomberg article goes on to highlight perhaps the best solution to dealing with the utilities—eliminate the need to work with them at all. Solar battery storage may be the long-term answer. Recently, a spokeperson for Outback Power inc., a battery storage company, spoke to a standing-room-only audience of 100 solar installers at the Honolulu Marriott. Recent improvements in the efficiency of such batteries are making their installation more economically viable all the time.
Therefore, the advice to solar installers is to follow the progress of solar battery technology very closely. Many customers, both residential and commercial, would like nothing more than to be off the electric grid entirely. The recent behavior of many electric utilities will likely only increase the desire of many solar users to render them irrelevant.
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