Just a quick recap here. We’ve established that consumers are increasingly interested in installing a small solar array on their rooftops because they’re more affordable, provide a proven way to reduce their energy bill, and because they’re looking for ways to be more self-sufficient and energy independent. And we’ve identified local building codes and homeowners’ associations as potential roadblocks to allowing anyone to install and generate solar power.
What else needs to happen to make America go solar?
Thing Two: Local utilities must be required to connect small solar installations to the grid.
If these small solar installations aren’t connected, then the excess power they generate can’t be added to the grid. That’s just a flat-out waste, since it’s difficult to store energy even with improved battery technology. Local public utility commissions can play a key role here by giving the utility credit against renewable energy goals, removing one of the grave concerns held buy utilities.
Thing Three: The local utility has to buy the excess power at a guaranteed rate for a determined time frame.
This is perhaps the biggest barrier. Utilities around the country are struggling to maintain their historical position as the exclusive generators and distributors of power. The idea of hundreds or thousands of small energy installations generating power instead of big power plants feels uncomfortable, alien and maybe even a little threatening. With increased emphasis on renewables, they’re already facing a battle for their very survival and are under intense scrutiny to meet ambitious PUC-imposed energy conservation goals. It’s not a good place, I admit, and I sympathize with their situation.
In response, some utilities are arguing that the utility company should own all solar panels connected to their grid. But if that happens, then utilities can expect consumer backlash that will likely sound something like this – “Let me get this straight. You want to put solar panels on my house and then you’re going to sell me the energy they generate back to me? If you can generate power on my roof, then so can I. Tell me again why I need you?”
Secondly, this guaranteed income makes installing solar a big no-brainer for homeowners, since it can be used to offset initial installation costs and might even prove to be a revenue stream.
So here’s my call to action: Instead of thinking that large solar farms are the only way to add renewables to the grid, let’s look at smaller installations as well. Rooftop solar is a very pragmatic solution. No expensive, thousand-mile-long transmission lines to be built. No public land to be used when existing buildings will do just fine. No construction delays – instead, construction time is measured by how long it takes to call an installer and get workers lined up. And instead of utility companies being the only energy generators, they become energy distributors of energy made by the people, for the people. It’s the democratization of energy and it’s an idea whose time has come.