A new California Net Energy Metering report, commissioned by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), found that electric utilities customers will subsidize solar customers of about $1.1 billion per year by 2020. The report was prepared by the Energy and Environmental Economics (E3) consultancy and evaluates the cost-effectiveness of the true cost of solar to utilities. The San Jose Mercury News said the report will "strongly influence discussions among state regulators about how to restructure electric rates." A flurry of responses ensued in various web channels and publications, claiming to biased interpretations and analysis of the data gathered.
While pro-solar energy advocates state that solar is beneficial to to utilities, utilities disagree, mainly due to the business proposition. Utilities are forced to pay retail rates for solar-generated energy, however they cannot harvest service and grid maintenance costs from the solar customers. Therefore, service costs are passed on to non-solar users and this report confirms the magnitude:1.1 billion per year in the next 6 -7 years.
However, the CPUC/E3 report doesn't include many other benefits, such as public health, jobs, climate change mitigation, and reducing dependence on fossil fuels. Opponents of the current net metering policy indicate that it forces lower-income ratepayers to subsidize solar, that is more likely to be installed and utilized by affluent residents.
Solar is here to stay and more solar systems have been deployed in the past 2.5 years than in the 50 years prior. Greentech Media Research is forecasting another doubling over the next 2.5 years. As we move from a centralized energy grid to a next-generation distributed generation energy system, the conversation of grid modernization continues to be intense.
The GCEP Research Symposium at Stanford University this week focused the discussion on applying advanced technologies for affordable low-carbon energy in communities around the world. GCEP, a visionary research institute, promotes and provides the infrastructure for collaboration between academia and industry.
Like in previous years, the GCEP Symposium was well organized with an interesting balance of thought leaders discussions with presentations of GCEP principal investigators of their latest scientific innovations in clean energy. Selected research programs and student projects showcased energy solutions. Experts talked about the transition from the research lab to product launch and the path to commercialization.
Richard Swanson, a consulting professor at Stanford University’s Precourt Institute for Energy (PIE) is also the Founder and Former President and CTO (Chief Technology Officer) at SunPower. He talked about the bridges built between academia and business and the opportunities, as well as challenges, on the long path from research to commercial markets. In fact, Professor Swanson noted that academic research of solar solutions has been active as far as since 1975. The original premise was that efficiency is key and a greater than 33% efficiency was needed for practical photovoltaic (PV) system to be economically viable.
In the 1980's it became clear that solutions need to utilize a concentrator technology. While in the 1980's it was difficult to get funding from either government entities or venture capitalists, in the 1990's R & D (Research and Development) funding came from several government bodies, such as the Department Of Energy (DOE), the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), and more. Funding enabled testing of several concentrator models, however, the main challenge to-date has been commercialization. With some failures, opportunities for collaboration and formation of alliances helped SunPower move forward. These resulted in developing effective and productive solar cell solutions in the 2000’s, abandoning concentrators and focusing on flat plate PV. SunPower went public in 2005 and was the first solar company to do so.
Photovoltaic is a technically a challenging sector, requiring expensive manufacturing processes, and where system and cell efficiency play a significant role. Solar PV competes with the established fossil-fuel energy industry, which has the generation experience, scaling and infrastructure of over 100 years. Further, to go to mass markets and become a viable solution, solar systems have to last 20 years in an outdoor environment; Can you imagine your mobile phone or tablet lasting that long?
1. CPUC Net Metering:
Cost Effective Evaluation: click here. http://www.cpuc.ca.gov/PUC/energy/Solar/nem_cost_effectiveness_evaluatio...
2. Greentech Media Research, by Stephen Lacey on August 13, 2013
"Chart: 2/3rds of Global Solar PV Has Been Installed in the Last 2.5 Years"
3. Stanford University GCEP information: