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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?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      We do exactly that in australia.

      • But here the grids are separate from the generators, so home solar only really has to interface to the grid. Not sure its the same in Hawaii.

        • 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 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.

          • 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.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by LWATCDR (28044)

              "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 hi

            • by thegarbz (1787294)

              No sorry the GP is actually right. The problem is not the size of the peak. If the peak is predictable that is easily compensated for. The problem is the variance. Imagine you have one giant multi-gigawatt turbine and you're quite stably feeding an entire city. These take a lot of effort to change and suddenly shedding load can be very damaging to the machine. Pre solar the cycle was predicable during the day with only a 20% ish variance* between differing predicated days (i.e. weekends are the same workday

      • 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.
        • Pure fantasy at this point, but if we can get cheap superconducting lines running in typical outside environmental temps, we could resell electricity to China while it's being generated in Texas. Same goes the other way around.

          • by Dr Max (1696200)
            I would be using the superconducting material to make super-duper-ultra-capacitors (it would mean amazing specs). But your idea is quite interesting, surely there is always somewhere in the world with plenty of sun shine. It may not be complete fantasy; Have a search for stanene (2d tin) it's meant to have 100% electrical conductivity at up to 100 degree celcius.
            • Fluorine-doped stanene, and it's only been shown to work in some speculative modeling. Never in a laboratory demonstration.

              There's no theoretical reason it can't be one, but the theory behind superconductors isn't fully understood so progress advances only slowly through trial and error.

        • by ShakaUVM (157947)

          >>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.

          That's the winter power curve. During summer, consumption peaks around noon to the early afternoon, as people run their ACs full blast. This peak is also much higher (~33% or so) than the winter peak draw.

          Summer at noon to early afternoon also happens to be the time when solar is at peak production, so it's very useful at helping to deal

    • 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 Mashiki (184564) <mashiki AT gmail DOT 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 Nerdfest (867930) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @07:32PM (#45791619)

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

        • by naasking (94116)

          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.

          This isn't entirely a bad thing. Higher energy costs spur investment in alternative energy sources and effi

          • This isn't entirely a bad thing. Higher energy costs spur investment in alternative energy sources and efficiency gains.

            Which wouldn't be needed if you simply used nuclear power. Solar would improve anyway for other reasons. But in the meantime you wouldn't be wasting a lot of money better spent on forcing alternative energy on people before it's ready (or in the case of wind power, propping up a zombie until it dies once more as it does every few decades).

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Mr. Slippery (47854)

              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 r

      • by alexander_686 (957440) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @06:59PM (#45791319)

        Mod parent up – and Hawaii has some specific issues.

        Hawaii has basically hit the saturation point of renewable energy until a decent storage system is developed. Renewables output tends to be erratic. If the wind is up or the sun is out the utilities has to bring down their gas generators, wind dies down or the sun sets and they have to bring on the generators. In other parts of the world they could export the electricity but that’s not an option here. Basically they have hit the saturation point. If you added more renewables the utilities would leave the power plants because they could not bring them up fast enough.

        Fun fact – Germany this summer charged customers who exported renewable energy onto the grid. They mainly have coal plants which take hours to take off / bring online. A few days of good wind and low demand meant there was nowhere for the electric to go. I think Germany is trying to fix that with more transmission line but it gives you an idea of the problem.

        • by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @09:10PM (#45792345)

          They mainly have coal plants which take hours to take off / bring online. A few days of good wind and low demand meant there was nowhere for the electric to go.

          They should consider doing something like the Bath County Pumped Storage Station [wikipedia.org] in Virginia where:

          Water is released from the upper reservoir during periods of high demand and is used to generate electricity. What makes this different from other hydroelectric dams is that during times of low demand, power is taken from coal, nuclear, and other power plants and is used to pump water from the lower to the upper reservoir. Although this plant uses more power than it generates, it allows these other plants to operate at close to peak efficiency for an overall cost savings.

          I imagine this would work in Hawaii too...

          • That requires you to pump water uphill, and HI has very little fresh water.

            No, you want something more like this:
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Float#Central_Hydraulic_Tower [wikipedia.org]

            IIRC there were some demonstration plants that were built in the Gulf of Mexico but I have not heard if the succeeded or failed. Since I have heard nothing I am going to guess failed. The question is not so much “can it be done” but “can it be done economically?” And a quick search of wiki suggests no. Most of

            • That requires you to pump water uphill, and HI has very little fresh water.

              Does it have to be fresh water, 'cause I think HI has a bunch of other water [wikipedia.org] handy.

      • by rahvin112 (446269) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @07:01PM (#45791333)

        That's not an entirely fair assessment. Solar feed-in is during peak power rates and the owner is at best reimbursed at the fixed residential rate which is frequently 1/4 to 1/8 of the peak rate. I agree that solar users are going to need to contribute to the grid but the power companies are being very short sided here.

        Without the feed-in of peak solar output and the credits that generates there is no reason not to install the batteries needed to go fully off grid where the homeowner won't be contributing anything to the grid. There is a very fine line here where battery storage becomes viable and we are approaching it rapidly. Solar continues to fall in cost, it's already approaching price parity with nuclear power without subsidies. If it continues to fall to $0.50 a watt it's going to reach cost the amortized cost of coal generation. It's beginning to hit critical mass, the more demand the steeper costs will drop which lowers costs and increases demand more. After years of subsidies priming the pump solar is finally gaining momentum and it scares these power companies to death because they are invested almost entirely in hydrocarbons. They are fighting solar because of these investments.

        The scary thing here is that if they don't turn things around and realize the potential of solar and embrace it they are going to get displaced by battery storage and then the power company is out of business. There is a very real possibility that by 2030 solar is going to be THE source of power.

        • by Trepidity (597)

          That's not an entirely fair assessment. Solar feed-in is during peak power rates and the owner is at best reimbursed at the fixed residential rate which is frequently 1/4 to 1/8 of the peak rate.

          They should really be paid at the going wholesale rate, though, since they're selling electricity into the grid, just like any other power plant is. I don't get why the feed-in tariffs are based on retail rates, rather than wholesale rates.

          • Over here in NL it's for two reasons. Fairness, because if they buy from you only at wholesale rates, they should also sell you at those rates. Which is exactly what happens with greenhouses, which often have a gas power plant to heat the greenhouse and produce CO2, while delivering electrical power to the grid. These guys buy and sell at wholesale rates.

            The other reason is simplicity. Our old mechanical power meters simply run backwards when delivering power to the grid, making the billing real easy.
        • by aaarrrgggh (9205)

          Residential networks usually have a diversity factor of about 10-- the peak of any one house is 10x the average. With solar, peak generation is generally 5x average demand. Across 100 homes with no solar in the daytime you might see 200kW load. If all the homes have "net zero" solar then the power generated is likely going to be close to 1MW. Now the utility needs 5x the infrastructure, but generates no income.

          It works much better in mixed developments where no energy is exported, but they want to protect

      • 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.

        • FWIW, the peak demand in California typically occurs about 6PM, well after most PV installations fall off the grid (peak production from solar occurs at 12noon and solar output is largely gone after 3PM). This data is from the California ISO website. This implies that grid tied PV solar without some sort of power storage is NOT an effective source of peak shaving.
        • Well stated and less scathing than I would've been.

          One additional thing you left out is transmission loss, which small generators solve. Getting 1kwh to my house over the grid goes over high tension lines from 80 mi away to a distribution point 1mi away. I don't know the exact loss, but I'd be surprised if it were above 80%. It's pretty high compared to me sending excess energy back into the grid for my neighbors to use 300 feet away.

          • The typical numbers I see quoted for grid losses (I happen to work in the power industry) is about 10%. The problems being discussed here aren't issues cause by a single residential install on a single low voltage (house hold 110/220 or 440 industrial) sub station. The grid could really care less as that isn't noticeable even if you have 14 KW installed capacity. You start having problems when you have a large number of residential installs on a single sub station. Since the switch gear at the substation wa
        • Not anymore. I just got a letter from austin energy informing me they are cutting the payback(12c/kwh to 10) because apparently the value of electricity fell. Funny I don't recall them annoucing a rate cut since the value of energy fell. Now I will be paying them for energy I produce and consume. I am seriously tempted to disconnect the solar meter and fool them back into just plain net metering, which is what I had originally, which I always thought was the most fair. Austin energy has gone from the best u
        • 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.

          No, YOU are missing a big point.
          You get no 'peak shaving' because 1) the peaks are very rarely during high solar output hours (there is no midday peak), but far more
          importantly, 2) the solar users ARE USING THEIR OWN POWER AT PEAK. now, I know you will argue that there is a net reduction of
          peak load, which is true, but there is also an equal reduction in generated income associated with the fact that the people using solar
          are far more likely to be low net users. The result is a smaller market of higher peak

      • 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 Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdotNO@SPAMhackish.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 ShakaUVM (157947)

        >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 here in California. We get to pay a monthly fee to be hooked up to the grid that is independent of our net power generated or consumed.

        Even still, PG&E has lobbied (and is still lobbying) to not have to pay

    • They already do. There are charged for energy generation, energy transport and the connection itself. Energy generation can typically be swapped out for different companies connected to your utilities' net or those buying/selling it on the commodities market. The rest is pure profit for your utility (hint: access and transport have typically been paid for by an array of governments). If you cut into both their transport and generation fees, you're left with the monthly connection fee (~$20 around here)

    • 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 SlashDread (38969)

        So bascially what your saying is, even if the customer has all the latest upgrades, and perfection in his local house energy-grid + two way energy connection, the incumbent last mile is still crap?

        • the incumbent last mile is still crap?

          No, there's nothing *wrong* with the last mile, per se. It does what it is designed to do--channel power from the utility into the house, and it does it efficiently and reliably. It is not designed to accept power flowing *from* the house because when it was designed, this was not seen as a possibility.

    • It is too simple. If everyone had solar panels the power companies would go broke, unless they jacked up their connection fees. But, that would unfairly impact people who can't afford to put solar panes on their roofs. It would be better if power companies bought the power from homeowners at wholesale costs during peak production hours and sold them power at normal retail prices when the sun is down. Net-metering, like the system you describe, is codified in many state's laws, including Hawaii, but I do

    • My electric bill has two lines, the connection fee ( a straight 41 cents per day) and the actual electrical usage fee.

      Clearly the utilities can do it this way, but not all of them do.

    • by luther349 (645380)
      they do have that system the problem is they have to pay you the same they charge you for the power. people with very large arrays can aculy have a 0$ bill.
    • by clovis (4684) *

      It's not building out their grids to accept feed-in; it's rebuilding existing grids to handle sudden surges in power at the end-points of distribution.

      The voltages at the endpoints of existing grids (i.e. your house) are dependent upon the amount of power generated centrally at the power generation plants. The power company must match the power generation to the load. If they don't generate enough, voltages drop (which burns out motors in air conditioners, refrigerators, etc) Industrial motors are usually s

  • Unbelievable (Score:2, Interesting)

    by egcagrac0 (1410377)

    If you can't connect backfeed to the grid, you can't connect new load to the grid, either.

    It shouldn't matter which way the watts are flowing for a particular customer.

    • Re:Unbelievable (Score:4, Interesting)

      by mythosaz (572040) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @06:31PM (#45791083)

      Except as mentioned above, the power company becomes free off-site "storage" for your off-peak power. You generate power you don't need in the morning, and you get it back "free" from them in the afternoon when you get home from work.

      • by djrobxx (1095215)

        Except as mentioned above, the power company becomes free off-site "storage" for your off-peak power. You generate power you don't need in the morning, and you get it back "free" from them in the afternoon when you get home from work.

        And this is still beneficial to the power company, because generally, when you get home from work, it's no longer peak usage. This gives them more peak capacity to satisfy the rest of their customers, without having to build an expensive new plant.

      • Stop saying "free storage". It's not. There are two things. First, the power co doesn't "store" those electrons, they SELL THEM. It's more like a loan, and you're the bank. They should pay interest.
        Second, they power co benefits from your electrons. During peak times, which is generally when the sun is shining and people have their AC cranked, the power co would normally have to send tons of power out, losing a TON in the transmission due to capacitance and resistance loss. Until we get superconducting wiri

    • It matters to the Utility, because of the watts are flowing OUT, then they have to PAY YOU for that power. They don't want to do this.

      It all boils down to this simple axiom: "Follow the money."

    • It shouldn't matter which way the watts are flowing for a particular customer.

      So you think you can run an entire factory off an extension cord? Afterall, it shouldn't matter "which way the watts are flowing", right? A simple application of common sense here would reveal that those giant overhead power lines probably carry a bit more juice than the USB charger you have hooked up to your computer. But the electricity flows along each of those conduits until reaching its destination.

      Load balancing is incredibly important to the stability of a power grid, especially a small one, like, sa

  • I live in Arizona, and I'm not quite ready to put solar on my roof. Getting my connection locked in and grandfathered before the new "tax" on selling solar back to the power company wasn't enough to sway me to jump. The technology keeps getting better, and the current break-even in initial outlay might recoup a lot faster in a few more years. That $30,000 worth of equipment might be $20,000 next year, and I'm a gambler. [This is the same reason I'm leasing a Leaf. Who knows how many miles the 2017 Leaf

    • I live in a municipality zone at the moment for power, and they don't buy back power at all, matter of fact they won't even give credits for what solar will put back into their system. How this is legal, I don't know but stuff like this needs to be addressed, and it's easily addressed by giving the customer credit for half of what they produce on the bill.

  • 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 Announcer (816755)

      Curious... how much does a "typical" home installation cost there? (Assuming a family of 4, average house around 2,000 SF)

  • 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 rmdingler (1955220) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @06:32PM (#45791095)
    Why yes indeed... I imagine there exists some real progress if the utilities have begun to fear it.
  • Yes, utilities can refuse to accept power from people's solar inverters, but what that will result in is people still remaining on solar... but going with off-grid setups. Instead of the panels going to the inverters, then to the grid tie, people will be going with panels, charge controllers, battery setups, then auxiliary power panels to provide emergency power, or even just move some low current use circuits permanently off the mains.

    Computers and electronics are an ideal candidate for this. A good PSW

    • by Announcer (816755)

      I could see lawsuits (class-action) if they try to outright ban homeowners from installing DC power systems in their homes. I doubt they could ever do that.

      Making a direct back-feed connection to the Grid illegal? They can most likely pull that off... for a time. An act of Congress could be forthcoming to change that, too. (Remember the old Ma Bell, where you couldn't connect ANYTHING user-owned to their network?)

    • What might also happen is an electrical provider will step forward (Green Mtn?) in a highly competitive market and agree to purchase the excess to gain customer base.
  • ...but it's not connected to the grid. Instead, it charges a set of marine (deep cycle) batteries that power a circuit with noncritical demand. (Lights and electronic appliances.) It's a proof of concept, but my next upgrade still won't connect to the grid. My goal is not to sell power to the local electric company, but to have enough power to not be terribly inconvenienced if the city power goes away. Others may disagree, but I think coupling your solar with the city grid kinda misses the point of ha

  • Fuck You. Fossil fuels are finite and getting more finite every day (by definition of being finite and subject to extraction). You need to embrace the future NOW. The future, whether you like it or not, is decentralised and localised. Fukushima's put paid to centralised nuclear systems, and renewables are within striking distance of price parity with fossil and nuclear. So, get over it, and adjust your business model NOW before someone adjusts it for you.

    Ideas? SUPPLY the means of your reinvention. You've

  • 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 Chameleon Man (1304729) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @06:50PM (#45791233)
    The click bait title makes it look like the utility is purposefully stopping solar power from feeding back into the system in an effort to stay pertinent in the industry. This is not true at all. If they REALLY wanted to screw customers over, they would buy back the electricity at little-to-no cost. The article probably got it's conclusions from some pissed off customers.
    Meeting electrical demand is a far more complicated issue then this article makes out.
  • 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 luther349 (645380)
      that's whats happening in Aussie. they passed a bill where they don't have to pay the grid tie system's a dime for the power there sending back. so people are converting there grid tie system into off grid systems in droves. irs cheaper to do there because of having 11 hrs of sun nearly all year so they only need a array half the size of one in the states.
  • by King_TJ (85913) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @07:00PM (#45791327) Journal

    If we had truly privatized power companies, I'd expect this behavior. After all, it would only make sense. You invested a bunch of money to build a whole infrastructure for power generation, doing all of your cost calculations based on people relying on it for 100% of their electricity needs. You have no provisions in place to store incoming electricity for future resale to users. What upside would you have if your customers start to generate their own power?

    But we don't. We have government regulated monopolies. I'm not trying to argue the merits for or against the arrangement right now, except to say this means to me, they should be required to comply with whatever the government believes is the best way forward. If government is going to issue tax breaks and incentives for installing solar power? Then it's clear it thinks this type of energy generation on an individual basis should be encouraged. So how can it sit by and tolerate the power companies imposing rules that run counter to that goal?

    Personally, I think as a homeowner, my ideal solar installation would be one where I don't need to be tied to the grid at all. Tesla is working on battery packs for homes that look a lot like refrigerators, which you'd couple to a solar panel installation to provide power at night or during bad weather conditions when the panels aren't capturing energy. I've heard that currently, they make the cost of the installation a bit prohibitive, but there's a good chance they'll become successful as part of a mainstream installation in the next 3 years or so. From what I've heard, reviewers of the setup said it was possible to run the entire home for as long as 48 hours or so on nothing but the battery pack, as long as power was used somewhat sensibly (not just leaving all the lights on in the house for no reason, etc.).
     

  • In the article the utility suggested that power surges and other grid problems could be traced back to the influx of new solar. Could it be a valid excuse that the grid isn't smart enough to take in a bunch of additional inputs and they need some time to upgrade?

  • Most electricity in Hawaii is generated using petroleum and coal fired plants. These plants are notorious for their slow warm up and cool down. With enough solar feeding in during peak times they will produce excess heat before the rising demand when the sun goes down and to compensate for the diving demand when the sun comes up. Coal and oil plants are not light switches. So in effect enough solar panels could produce power than can't be used but still has to be purchased by the grid companies and the grid

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

    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 Maxo-Texas (864189) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @08:03PM (#45791863)

    First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.

    Mahatma Gandhi

    ---

    Solar power continues to get cheaper. I'm interested in the implications for the broader energy market. Even a 5% drop in demand for coal, natural gas, and oil could have a tremendous impact on the boarder market.

No amount of careful planning will ever replace dumb luck.

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