While solar power provides less than one percent of the total electricity in the United States, this alternative energy source is expected to play an increasingly important role in the coming decades. This trend is expected both in the United States and elsewhere in the world. Recently, in fact, the International Energy Agency postulated that solar could become the world’s largest energy source as early as 2050. No matter the actual statistics, solar energy is set to transform the global power system.
In order for such a transformation to occur, many things must fall into place. Despite the success of home solar installations across the United States, there are movements afoot to reduce the ability of residential solar customers to sell their stored electricity back to the utility companies. This ability, called “net metering”, when coupled with the plunging cost of solar installations, spurred the growth of residential solar in recent years. However, some utility companies are pressing hard to limit or eliminate net metering. Finding a way to satisfy all parties is the critical step in maintaining growth in the solar industry. In the United States, regulators are searching for compromises to allow solar to expand while ensuring enough available resources to maintain the grid.
The Money Behind the Issue
Economics drives much of the debate. Some experts argue that as rooftop solar installations become more popular, people will buy less and less electricity from their local power company. In this scenario, the utility company will still be maintaining the grid, but receiving less income. If there is not enough money to maintain the grid, the infrastructure fails for all. Therefore, utilities posit charging rooftop solar owners a maintenance or connection fee or have a significant reduction in the price paid to these households for their excess solar electricity. In Arizona, for example, the utility company proposed a $50 monthly fee for solar customers! This proposal was resisted, but highlights the friction between utilities and customers.
Is Solar Electricity a Right?
Political arguments also flow around the growth of solar, with conservatives split between those who want to eliminate or control net metering and those who believe that a home owner has the right to generate and sell their own electricity. Some parties support the giant utility companies, seeing their efforts to maintain the grid as critical to society, while others see these companies as monopolies interfering with a true market economy. Some political commentators even argue that these huge companies are socialistic and need to be disbanded.
The Future of Solar Energy
The International Energy Agency argues that the continued success of the solar industry depends on policies that facilitate solar electricity generation while also covering the cost of the grid used to transmit and distribute that electricity. The utility companies see a rocky road ahead and are working to preserve their profit margin. However, their business model is under increasing pressure to adjust their business model to fit the emerging world of solar energy. Whatever plans are enacted will need to balance the need to maintain a grid for all citizens while supporting those people who venture towards alternative energy sources. The road may be bumpy, but opportunities abound for success.
This article was written by James Elwood. James is a wealth of information and enjoys publishing material that is related to the green energy movement. While the internet has brought solar energy to light, there is still an increasing demand for the public to become aware of the vast potential of this great technology.