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Utilities Fight Back Against Solar Energy 579

Posted by timothy
from the this-again dept.
JoeyRox writes "The exponential growth of rooftop solar adoption has utilities concerned about their financial future. Efficiency gains and cost reductions has brought the price of solar energy to within parity of traditional power generation in states like California and Hawaii. HECO, an electric utility in Hawaii, has started notifying new solar adopters that they will not be allowed to connect to the utility's power grid, citing safety concerns of electric circuits becoming oversaturated from the rapid adoption of solar power on the island. Residents claim it's not about safety but about the utility fighting to protect its profits." We mentioned earlier the connection fee recently approved in Arizona. Do you have a solar system? If not (or if so, for that matter), does this make you think twice about it?
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Utilities Fight Back Against Solar Energy

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 26, 2013 @06:25PM (#45791019)

    We do exactly that in australia.

  • by thesupraman (179040) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @06:28PM (#45791053)

    Because they are usually required to pay customers a lot more for feed-in power than they can generate it for, with no allowance for their internal cost overheads, etc.

    Basically they become a free power storage and backup facility only paid for any extra usage) for the customers, which is great for adoption, but means that non solar customers are adding further subsidy to the solar customers (over and above the common subside via taxation/government grants).

    Not that I am against private solar - I have it myself, but using the grid as backup/storage is somewhat unfair in the big picture.

    Some pricing plans are a bit more in line with reality, but regulators push hard to make it 'simple for the consumer' which really tends to end up meaning
    'subsidize the solar users'.

  • by davecotter (1297617) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @06:30PM (#45791075)
    a fantastic story from a neighbor of mine in Watsonville, CA. He fought PG&E over some years and finally won: http://www.solarwarrior.com/pgebattle.html [solarwarrior.com]
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 26, 2013 @06:33PM (#45791103)

    The reason is that solar panels likely are installed without consideration for self sufficiency, ie, battery space.

    The panels themselves are cheap, but installing the batteries and storage necessary arn't, so people appear to just put up the panels, run what they can, then take the rest from the power company.

    This means the base load the power company has to supply at night is probably significantly higher than during the day, meaning their capacity for peak wattage doesn't change, but they sell less overall.

    So they pretty much have to up their prices, and well, that puts those without solar into the red.

  • by ChumpusRex2003 (726306) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @06:51PM (#45791239)

    Because it is exceedingly expensive to do so.

    The issue is that of voltage tolerance. The grid is designed to supply power form central to peripheral. The central voltage is held higher than peripheral, so that the expected voltage drop through supply impedance will result in a voltage at the customer premises which is within tolerance.

    If current flow is reversed through the high impedance "last mile", then you can get severe voltage elevation at the point of connection of the generation. This can result in equipment damage (usually the customers) and legal problems for the electricity network operator.

    The only way to deal with this problem is to increase the "prospective fault current" of the customer circuit by reducing the system impedance. This isn't something simple like replacing transformers, it is extremely expensive and requires repalcement of cabling with heavier gauge wire, upgrade of safety equipment to withstand the higher fault currents, and may require uprating of transformers and switchgear to handle the magnetic and thermal forces of a fault on the now upgraded circuit.

    There are other issues too. Grid transformers are often not designed to operate in reverse power - the tappings are designed for voltage drop in the direction of HV to LV. Under reverse power, there may be insufficient tap range to get satisfactory voltages. Only way around this is to replace the transformer.

    Finally, there are second order effects, such as reduced efficiency of transformers when operated in reverse power, due to higher levels of flux leakage from the secondary (primary windings usually go nearest the core, so that stray flux cuts through the secondary and transfers power).

  • by Mashiki (184564) <mashiki@NOsPam.gmail.com> on Thursday December 26, 2013 @06:56PM (#45791293) Homepage

    Because they are usually required to pay customers a lot more for feed-in power than they can generate it for, with no allowance for their internal cost overheads, etc.

    Of course, and this in turn is offset by higher electricity prices. Surprise, and welcome to Ontario, Canada. Where electricity prices will jump 33% in the next 3 years thanks to "green energy." [financialpost.com] This will make it one of the most expensive places in North America to buy electricity. And what's funny? These "green energy retrofits and FiT programs" account for under 14% of generation.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 26, 2013 @07:08PM (#45791393)
    I work for Maui Electric which is a subsidirary of HECO. I am posting AC for this reason. I am copying part of a news release that we gave to these customers to help them understand. "On Sept. 6, the Hawaiian Electric Companies announced they were enabling more small PV systems (10 kW and under) to be added without a potentially time-consuming interconnection study and possible safety upgrades. The new threshold for a possible study was set at the point at which the PV on the circuit reached 100% of that circuit’s daytime minimum load, increased from 75%. At the same time, with a growing number of circuits with high amounts of PV, Hawaiian Electric also announced that customers who want to add PV on circuits that have reached the more liberal 100% threshold would need to await the results of an interconnection study to ensure their PV system can be safely interconnected into the grid. Previously, when PV levels were lower, O‘ahu customers had been allowed to interconnect their systems while they were awaiting final Hawaiian Electric approval of their net energy metering contract. Some customers with loans and/or contractual obligations for a PV system at the time of the announcement were caught in the transition, facing the possibility of being unable to get the benefits of a PV system they had committed to buy or had already installed" We are not denying any customers Solar, Hawaii leads the nation in KW generated per customer. (Solar Electric Power association Rankings). Hope that clears up some questions people may have.
  • by Mike_EE_U_of_I (1493783) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @07:12PM (#45791443)

    Because they are usually required to pay customers a lot more for feed-in power than they can generate it for, with no allowance for their internal cost overheads, etc.

    Basically they become a free power storage and backup facility only paid for any extra usage) for the customers, which is great for adoption, but means that non solar customers are adding further subsidy to the solar customers (over and above the common subside via taxation/government grants).

    You cite factors that fall against solar, but miss all the ones that fall in solar's favor. The biggest is peak shaving. In many areas, usage peaks coincide with when the sun is shining. Peak power is the most expensive power. Imagine building a power plant and running it seven hours a year. Welcome to peaker plants. That's some hellishly expensive electricity. In places like Hawaii, Texas, Arizona, and southern California, when people put more solar PV in, the utility needs fewer peaker plants. This is HUGE. You know how much credit most utilities want to give to solar for that? Zero.

        But if the utility does something to eliminate the need for a peaker plant, you can bet your entire net worth the utility will be asking the rate commission for higher rates to reward them.

        The best work on this subject (trying to figure out what price has no one subsidizing any one) is coming out of the Rocky Mountain Institute. A good starting place is their survey of existing literature (http://www.rmi.org/Knowledge-Center%2FLibrary%2F2013-13_eLabDERCostValue). Austin electric also appears to have done really good work in establishing what they call a "fair value of solar". By their measure, the fair value of solar in Austin is currently higher than the retail rate. As more solar is added, this rate will fall. The rate is assessed annually.

  • by TrumpetPower! (190615) <ben@trumpetpower.com> on Thursday December 26, 2013 @07:26PM (#45791569) Homepage

    Because they are usually required to pay customers a lot more for feed-in power than they can generate it for, with no allowance for their internal cost overheads, etc.

    Absolutely false -- horribly false.

    On a day-to-day and month-to-month accounting basis, my utility (Salt River Project in Arizona) gives me a kWh-for-kWh credit. If I generate 20 kWh during the day, use 15 kWh during the day, and another 5 kWh during the night, I have net zero usage.

    Surpluses are carried over day-to-day and month-to-month. If I have a net debit at the end of the month, I'm charged the regular rate for that electricity. If I have a surplus, it's carried over to the next month.

    Once a year, in the spring, if I have a net surplus, SRP credits my account and resets the surplus to zero. And I generate about half again as much as I consume -- enough to power my not-yet-purchased electric vehicle -- so they credit me a fair amount every year. It's enough to pay the basic connection fee for about half the year, in fact, so I only even pay that for about six months per year.

    But.

    Rather than crediting me at the $0.12 / kWh typical residential retail rate, or the $0.25+ / kWh they purchase peak summer power (which is when I'm generating most of my surplus electricity), they pay me about $0.02 / kWh.

    By my rough back-of-the-envelope calculations, they're now profiting from me almost as much as I used to pay them in total. As in, what used to be their gross receipts from me is now their net.

    What business wouldn't be thrilled with such a business model?

    So, do please stop spreading the lies of the Koch Brothers. The poor widdle utilities aren't being hurt by the solar meanies -- quite the opposite. They're making money from us, hand over fist.

    They're just a bunch of greedy sick fucks who want to roast the goose that's laying the golden eggs, is all.

    Cheers,

    b&

  • by fredprado (2569351) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @08:10PM (#45791915)
    And he is wrong. Peak demand happens exactly in the hours he is starting to pull energy back from the grid. He is actually giving energy in the hours that demand is bellow the peak and taking energy when demand is critical.
  • by Charliemopps (1157495) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @08:20PM (#45791989)

    Exactly. If your solar power system has no storage, and you're just selling your excess to the power company and then buying back power when the suns not out, you're just exacerbating the power companies load issues. Obviously you're selling when there is little need and buying when need is high. The real cost of solar is in the storage. One of my wifes best friends is married to a guy that sells these systems in Hawaii and I was shocked to find out they had no battery systems at all for sale. It isn't even an option.

    I know a few geeky guys here in the mid-west with solar power systems and theirs involve a shed full of batteries and inverters. Those guys can actually pull off not buying power. One guy set his up because the cost of running power to the land he bought was going to be more than the solar would cost anyway. These are the kinds of systems that people need to get if they're going to do it. And you damn well better know how to maintain it.

  • by LWATCDR (28044) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @08:47PM (#45792189) Homepage Journal

    No they are really not. Maybe from a business standpoint but not from a reality standpoint. Solar goes from zero to max out put from dawn to solar noon back to zero at sunset. Actually it is zero for a good while after dawn and before sunset but you get what I mean. Once you get a lot of that on a grid it can become a nightmare to keep stable. Batteries are not an option yet so storage is just not practical. You need a huge amount of peaking plants to keep the grid stable. You do not want large voltage and or frequencies swings.

  • You may want to double check before you claim that Nevada doesn't have large amounts of mountains. For that matter, also double check that the northern edge of Arizona, as well as the area that Tucson is in, aren't mountainous. I think you might find that contrary to what you might think, those states do indeed have a share of mountains.

  • by Nkwe (604125) on Friday December 27, 2013 @12:15AM (#45793345)

    I could see how it might be dangerous to electrical workers that are working to restore power to your neighborhood, if your house is putting power on the line when they expect nothing on the line, but to firefighters trying to put out a house fire?

    Firefighters putting out a fire may need to cut into walls or the roof in order to put out a fire. Since there are potentially energized wires in the walls and in the roof, a hazard exists for firefighters. Normally you can turn off the power to a house by removing the electrical meter (at least here in the US anyway), which emergency personnel may do if they are concerned about cutting into energized wires. If you have a solar system or other local power generation system, the assumption that you can make the house electrically safe by pulling the meter may not be a good one. Electrical code here requires that at the power meter (where the power comes into the house) and at the power distribution panel (inside the house where you would turn off the power) there to be signage indicating that there is a solar system (or alternate power source) in place and how to disable it. In addition, code requires there to be a disconnect switch on the roof next to the solar panels. To protect line workers who are repairing a downed power grid, electrical code here requires that the solar system automatically disconnect itself from the grid if the grid is down. This prevents power from being back fed to the grid while it is potentially being worked on.

  • by PlusFiveTroll (754249) on Friday December 27, 2013 @02:27AM (#45794011) Homepage

    Flordia, moderate amounts of sun, lots of water, no mountains.
    West Texas, Nevada, Arizona, mountains in places, maybe water in other places, maybe not.

    I think his point still stands, the key is having all of them close together.

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