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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 benjfowler (239527) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @06:22PM (#45791007)

    I don't understand why the utilities simply don't build out their grids to accept feed-in from customers' solar rigs, and then split their pricing structure into 1) grid access, and 2) net power supplied? Or is this too simple?

  • One sided analysis (Score:5, Insightful)

    by OFnow (1098151) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @06:29PM (#45791069)
    The utilities appear to be doing a one-sided analysis from what I have noticed. They complain about their lines being loaded by customers generating power and don't count the reduction in line use from the local power a home solar instatllation is helping to power the local neighborhood. Yes, we have a rooftop solar installation. Currently around 90,000 of them in California. Increasing fast. Local solar company is hiring 10-15 new installers *every day* according to local paper.
  • by ghack (454608) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @06:39PM (#45791161)

    Excess energy on the grid is a real issue, especially if there has been a significant wave of people adopting these systems. If there isn't demand for all the electricity being pumped onto the grid, there has to be a place to dump the energy. This is an even bigger issue with wind and other intermittent sources.

    If the grid is overwhelmed and there is no demand, should folks expect to get paid for that energy, which could actually cost the utility money to dump somewhere?

    Something else to bear in mind- the utility has to operate base load plants no matter what.

    Recent literature indicates that these issues can be overcome (one example from Utilities Policy [sciencedirect.com]), but that the process will take time. Utilities are a very conservative industry and are often slow to adapt new systems because they have stringent boundary conditions.

    Just playing the devils advocate here- I'm sure profit is a part of it.

  • by blue trane (110704) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @06:52PM (#45791247) Homepage Journal

    Why not fund research into energy storage technologies so when the grid is overloaded, the energy can be saved and used later?

  • by TrumpetPower! (190615) <ben@trumpetpower.com> on Thursday December 26, 2013 @06:55PM (#45791275) Homepage

    I live in the Valley of the Sun, and most of the southern half of my roof is covered in solar panels. I generate about half again as much electricity as I consume. This is by design; the plan is to get an electric vehicle in the not-too-terribly-distant future, and my excess generation capacity is enough that I should be able to drive for basically free. And the whole thing will pay itself off in about seven years total; if you remember the Rule of 70, that works out to about a 10% annual rate of return on my investment.

    My utility provider is SRP; it was APS who was taking Koch Brothers money to fuck over their customers.

    I've got a really good thing going for myself, obviously, but SRP is also making a nice profit off of me. My peak generation coincides with peak demand here. At the same time as they sell my electricity to my neighbors at $0.14 / kWh, they're paying twice that to spool up diesel generators...and they're paying me about $0.02 / kWh for my surplus. And I've signed over all my green credits to them, as well. Sweet deal for both of us, and I'm glad for it to be that way -- that's how good business profits are supposed to work.

    If, however, APS's original proposal went into effect and SRP adopted it or something similar for themselves...well, at that point, I'd tell them to fuck off, get a battery system, and drop off the grid entirely. Changing the equation like that would wipe out any financial advantage I get from my investment and hugely profit the utility -- and, remember, I'm already far and away the most profitable customer they have on the block. It would really suck to have to pay again for a battery system; I've got better things I could do with that money. But I'd much rather invest that money in real physical goods that provide me with actual benefits (including, in this case, having the lights stay on should the grid ever go down) than throw gobs of money for no good reason at greedy profiteering corporate CEOs.

    I can assure you, if the utilities keep up this sort of thing...well, they'll "protect" their profits for a little while, but it won't be long before people start dropping off the grid in droves. And that will be a bad thing for everybody -- but, most of all, for the utilities.

    Cheers,

    b&

  • by Xtifr (1323) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @07:29PM (#45791593) Homepage

    You forget that the local grid isn't isolated [...]

    That might be a valid point if we weren't talking about Hawaii!

  • by Nerdfest (867930) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @07:32PM (#45791619)

    More accurately, it's going up because of corrupt government and bad management.

  • by Rockoon (1252108) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @07:36PM (#45791639)

    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.

    You are then paid exactly the retail price for the electricity. So if that is the case, how is his statement (which you quoted, fucker) false?

  • by fredprado (2569351) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @07:36PM (#45791643)
    There isn't any other kind of management when governments are involved.
  • by noh8rz10 (2716597) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @07:46PM (#45791715)

    in CA all the utility power is "decoupled", which means that electricity is sold at cost while the utility makes all of its money of off its installed infrastructure. This way they don't give a hoot if you get your electrons from a power plant or a solar panel. in fact, every person who installs a solar panel needs a utility upgrade to connect it to the grid, and the utility makes $$ off of that in perpetuity.

  • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot AT hackish DOT org> on Thursday December 26, 2013 @07:47PM (#45791731)

    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.

    The fair price for net-zero usage is more than $0. You are deriving a service from the grid, which is presumably why you're connected to it. In this case, you're using it to time-shift your energy usage, rather than buying your own batteries and going off-grid. So if you draw 20 kWh from the grid at some point, and feed 20 kWh back into it at another point, and are paying $0 for that, you are being subsidized.

    The correct accounting would be that you should be charged retail rates for what you draw out of the grid, but reimbursed only at wholesale rates for what you feed into the grid, like any other power producer who feeds into the grid is paid.

  • by pubwvj (1045960) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @07:47PM (#45791733) Homepage

    Our utility has also put a ban on "Net Metering Connects" as they call it here. They fully admit it is all about money but still try and look green. It is all a sham and a scam.

    The way net metering works here is during the summer months when you generate excess power you build up a credit on your account. Then come January 1st take all that extra credit that you have built up and donate it to themselves such that you start the new year with no credit during the darkest, cloudiest time of the year. Now you have to buy power from them until you get to late summer when you've finally got a net metered credit again. Very lucrative for the power company.

    So, why don't they want more connections? Because they say the people who are net metering aren't having to pay the cost of power delivery and they are protesting this by demanding a new fee and higher rates.

    Pure greed.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 26, 2013 @08:14PM (#45791947)

    Call me an old fart, or what you like. Or just ignore me.

    I have seen this before, yes, it is the money. City of Tucson in the 1970-80's had a program to use water smartly, called "Beat the Peak". An education program to explain that you shouldn't water you lawn in the middle of the 100F day, do it in the evening, after dark or wee hours of the morning. You'll use less and have just as green a lawn (this was in the 1980's, please). And it worked, people used less water and had really green lawns.

    It worked so well, the Water Department had to raise the rates because there was less usage, less money coming in. They were quoted as not having the funds for Capital Improvements, gee, you think?

  • by Dr Max (1696200) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @08:34PM (#45792123)
    We do that in australia by letting anyone with solar generation jack up the network voltage in order to backfeed. It's causing massive problems (mostly around retirement homes) because the network is operating at around 270v in the middle of the day, in a suburb with lots of solar (should be about 240v). Thats the other thing, we don't need all this extra power in the middle of the day, we need it at 6 oclock at night when everyone turns on the big screens and ovens. It's not a good soloution, and thats a big part of why you cant get a good price on solar generation any more (used to be 44cents per kwh, now its 8cents per kwh). We need a new long life battery technology to use solar properly if you ask me.
  • by currently_awake (1248758) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @08:38PM (#45792143)
    hydro-electric works rather well for that. You pump water into the upper reservoir during the day and use that to run the generators at night.
  • by LWATCDR (28044) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @08:49PM (#45792223) Homepage Journal

    It does if you have.
    1. a lot of water
    2. Mountains.
    The problem is that the best areas for solar power do not tend to be near large amounts of water and or mountains. Places like Texas, Nevada, Arizona, and Florida for example.

  • by deimtee (762122) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @10:25PM (#45792727) Journal
    He's saying he's paid retail up to the amount he uses (12 or 25 c/kWh). (Connection charges are not included.)
    When he generates an excess they only pay him wholesale for that. (2c/kWh)

    I think it is actually a reasonable model.
    Maintaining the lines is a pretty fixed cost = connection fee.
    Generate less than you use = you pay retail on the diff like everyone else.
    Generate more than you use = you collect wholesale on what you sell, same as other power suppliers.
    They make a profit on selling your excess power, you get free energy storage.
  • by Mr. Slippery (47854) <(tms) (at) (infamous.net)> on Friday December 27, 2013 @12:57AM (#45793569) Homepage

    but even at their best and least corrupt, governments are still inefficient and horrible in management.

    As opposed to the private sector, which is inefficient, horrible in management, corrupt, and greedy.

    People who think that the private sector is necessarily more efficient or less corrupt than the public sector, must never have worked in the private sector.

  • by Mr. Slippery (47854) <(tms) (at) (infamous.net)> on Friday December 27, 2013 @01:07AM (#45793615) Homepage

    Which wouldn't be needed if you simply used nuclear power.

    Nuclear power requires huge government subsidies for liability insurance, security (they are wonderful terrorist targets), and environmental devastation (uranium mining is incredibly dirty, and we still have no workable solution for waste disposal).

    Nuclear power as we know it -- uranium and plutonium fission -- is such a boondoggle that the only reasons people continue to advocate for it are flat-out corruption, a near-religious attachment to the romance of "mastering the atom", or a desire to normalize nuclear technology to make nuclear weapons less threatening. Fusion and "energy amplifier" designs based on thorium spallation have potential but aren't ready.

  • by PlusFiveTroll (754249) on Friday December 27, 2013 @03:58AM (#45794287) Homepage

    Um, I'm glad you neglected the other reasons prices went up such as an ongoing drought and a growing southwestern population that has uses far more then the small amount offset by your reduced usage. But hey, go live in the middle of a fucking desert then bitch about water prices and see if I give a damn.

  • by Ungrounded Lightning (62228) on Friday December 27, 2013 @04:35AM (#45794409) Journal

    Solar goes from zero to max out put from dawn to solar noon back to zero at sunset. ... You need a huge amount of peaking plants to keep the grid stable. You do not want large voltage and or frequencies swings.

    Except that renewable energy largely feeds during the peaks, REDUCING the need for peaking generation. Solar generates more during sunny times, closely tracking air conditioning requirements. Wind peaks in afternoon/evening, along with classical peak load, due to "lake effect" wind at good sites (i.e. Altamont pass, with the Pacific for the "lake" and California's central valley for the "land") and also tracks heating requirements, due both to lower temperatures during stormy times and greater thermal transfer through walls during windy times. A mix of solar and wind is normally a close match to the grid's peak cycle.

    Meanwhile, generation-affecting weather phenomena, like storm shadows and weather-related winds and gusting, make output vary quickly at any given site, but with both solar and wind generation spread out over many square miles and grid-connected these variations are smoothed out. They're also predictable days in advance.

    So solar and wind DECREASE the need for peaking generation.

  • by LWATCDR (28044) on Friday December 27, 2013 @07:54AM (#45794963) Homepage Journal

    "So solar and wind DECREASE the need for peaking generation."
    But not the need for peaking generating plants. You will still need enough peaking plants to cover the Solar and wind output! Those plants will have to be built, staffed, and maintained even when sitting static. Those fixed costs will drive up the cost of those plants for KWH produced because they will stay fixed. Also those good wind sites with lake effect are not all that common and are just not found in most of the midwest where you find the highest wind potential. Sites with good wind are solar potential near population centers are just not that common.
    I am for Solar and Wind and Nuclear but I am also realistic about the problems with solar and wind. They are a new kind of power generation. Power companies have a lot of experience dealing with base-load and peaking power plants. Solar and wind are what I would call opportunistic power plants. Today probably the best system available would be Nuclear base-load, natural gas and hydrogen peaking, and solar and wind opportunistic. Maybe use excess power from solar and wind along with heat from Nuclear to make synth fuel from hydrogen and atmospheric CO2.

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