Power companies may have found a new way to crack into the booming solar business

By Chris Mooney, The Washington Post

There’s a tense dynamic accompanying the rapid growth of solar in the United States—in which traditional utility companies, nervous about the spread of rooftop solar panels, are seeking ways to limit the compensation earned by solar customers for the extra electricity they provide to the grid—a system known as net metering.  This battle over net metering has been often depicted as a zero sum conflict between an upstart and an incumbent, but new research out of the University of Texas at Austin suggests there could be a kind of “middle ground” in the conflict between some utilities and solar installers.

The potential “win-win,” as the researchers put it, involves community solar—solar energy projects or panels that are in effect shared by a group of people. Their research suggests that community shared solar has the potential for “stabilizing the customer-utility relationship with deeper solar penetration.”

The new study, recently published in Energy Research & Social Science, found that at least some utility companies seem to like community solar programs, are already offering them, and plan to expand them. One key reason? Customers clearly want access to solar, and some utility industry representatives find community solar to be a great way to give it to them—in a manner that allows the utility to continue to service these customers’ full electricity demand, that is.  The research also suggests that community solar is yet another way—beyond getting directly into the business of installing rooftop solar—that traditional power companies seem to be finding their way into the hot residential solar market.

The state of California has even mandated that its three main utilities — Pacific Gas and Electric, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric — begin to offer community solar programs, and on a large scale. The utilities are slated to set up 600 megawatts of community solar capacity by 2019.

Read full article in the Washington Post

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