News and analysis about energy in California with an eye toward renewables.

Rooftop Solar As Cheap As Grid Power in Ten Years, Report Predicts

As solar panels get cheaper, more people will be doing this -- and that's got utilities running scared. | Photo: Bernd/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Those utilities we've been mentioning over the last couple days who are worried about rooftop solar may well have good reason to feel that way. A new report forecasts that within ten years, power from solar panels on your roof will be as inexpensive as power from local electric companies across the country. And for Southern Californians, that day will be here quite a bit sooner.

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It's called "grid parity," and it comes when the cost of installing solar panels on your roof drops to -- or below -- the cost per kilowatt hour of power from your electric company. That's already the case in Hawaii, where sunshine is plentiful and electric power from the grid comes from power plants that burn expensively imported diesel fuel. And within a few years, it'll be the case in California.

The Institute for Local Self Reliance's report, Commercial Rooftop Revolution, forecasts that as much as 312,000 megawatts of commercial and residential rooftop solar will be economically competitive with grid power by 2022, without subsidy. That's nine percent of the nation's total demand.

It's also a source of power that will be most productive at peak consumption times, which is when the utilities generally make the most money selling us power.

In California, according to report author John Farrell, 26,000 megawatts of rooftop solar will be economically competitive without subsidy by 2022, more than 10 percent of the state's consumption.

Farrell points out that as the economic obstacles to solar installation fall away, other obstacles will become more important, and many of those obstacles involve utility intransigence:

As the economic barrier shatters, other barriers to rooftop solar emerge: archaic utility rules (e.g. the 15 Percent Rule), net metering caps, limits of local permitting offices, and a dearth of state virtual net metering policies.

One begins to understand why utilities might be motivated to try to make ratepayers look askance at rooftop solar. Unless they get those archaic rules solidified before long, everyone's going to want their own solar panels, and it'll be clear the utilities are the ones standing in the way.

Not that all utilities are necessarily opposing rooftop solar, mind you. As Farrell points out in a blog post describing the report,

Many utilities and state regulatory commissions are finding the value in solar and realizing that perceived barriers aren't as large as they had feared. Austin Energy, a Texas municipal utility, now pays a non-subsidy premium for solar because it helps them offset expensive peak power purchases. In Hawaii, utilities who two years ago argued that the distribution grid was at its limit have been managing to accommodate thousands more solar projects on their grid systems.

Let's hope California's utilities hop on board.

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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