The Biggest Barrier To Solar Expansion Is That You Can't Price Gouge, According To New Study

I think the headline is a gross misrepresentation of the study. When it comes to providing electricity, cheap is not and never has been enough. It is important, and what is cheap (or was when the plant was built) tends to make up the bulk of any regional electricity supply, but more expensive generators are also in the mix because they have desirable properties that are worth paying more for (like being able to provide megawatts of electricity on demand and at short notice).

What the study points out, in essence, is that while solar is cheap, since it is up to the sun to turn it on and off there is only so much you can install before you find yourself periodically generating more electricity than you can use. The way the vast majority of our power grids are set up today, whatever electricity you don’t use immediately is wasted. It doesn’t matter that it’s cheap and plentiful if it goes to waste, and it’s hard to make a green argument around producing emissions-free electricity that you ultimately can’t even use. If that’s the end of the story then of course that’s going to be a barrier to solar expansion. The study views this through the lens of corporate profitability, but I don’t think that’s really even necessary – it should be obvious that at a certain point, we would quit building plants that produce a product with zero value and zero positive impact on GHG emissions, even if they are cheap.

Don’t get me wrong, cheap is certainly enough to get a whole lot of solar into our power grids without having to do much else beyond build the power plants. But once you’ve built a certain number of power plants, you reach a point of diminishing returns, and that occurs well before we have a fully decarbonized power grid (though experts don’t agree on exactly where that point is). That’s where the technological, regulatory, and policy solutions the study mentions come into play. And while those tools will certainly be important to getting investors in a capitalist, profit-driven economy, you will need most of them even if you make all utilities and power plants public, taking profits – let alone price-gouging – completely out of the equation.


It’s worse than that. Energy must at every moment be consumed at the same rate as it is produced. If you have solar power pumping out too much electricity you have a problem. If you don’t find a way to get rid of it you overload the grid. That’s why prices can occasionally go negative in areas with lots of renewable power.

There will have to be some adjustment on the consumer side in the future, like running AC and water heaters when electricity is cheap.

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While all that is very true, if the home owner goes off grid with adequate battery backup, you then own your electric grid. We did this, with the geographic location ideal for this set up in the California high desert.


Yeah, they’ve set up their billing so all non-usage fees are part of, and scale with, your electricity usage, so a connection fee is necessary to recover infrastructure costs that solar users are still a part of. But they already have connection fees for solar users, and they’re setting up a situation where everyone’s electricity costs are subsidized not just by heavy users but solar owners, to a ridiculous degree. The fees would destroy the incentive to get solar for all but the heaviest users.

I think they’re putting themselves in a position where it’s time to talk about nationalizing the power companies.


It’s ALWAYS time to talk about nationalising the power companies.


And instead of a technological solution to getting rid of the excess, good old late-stage capitalism opts for trying a financial solution - paying you to take it off their hands.

FFS - this is why utilities should be treated as a public/social good and managed as an end-to-end system for the benefit of citizens, not by fragmented private companies.


going off grid has some other effects… Unless the property is rural, the ability to sell is severely impaired. Mortgage companies suddenly think your property has cooties.

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Got news for ya… “community” owner power is just a different greedy company.

Partially true, as I have many friends that are off-grid, we are seeing lenders change their tune, slowly I might add. The other point to consider is that many of those off-griders are in the final home they will ever own/retirees, so that issue will be some one else’s to deal with.


I was able to get PV installed by a nonprofit that specifically targeted low usage households. They charged wholesale for materials, passed along the permitting and interconnection costs, and a “Personnel, Overhead, and Transportation Charge” of about a dollar per watt system size.

They did all the work, about all I needed to do was give the inverter access to my wifi, which wasn’t really necessary.


And as you mentioned, your property is in the desert… Generally rural. Banks have more tolerance for that kind of thing.

As to “someone elses problem”… That puts me in mind of the loan agents during the subprime era when told people wouldn’t be able to make the loan payments. Response: IBG, UBG (I’ll be gone, you’ll be gone). Not cool, but people do what people do. That’s why we have politicians who continually kick the can down the road and an electorate that allows it.

Actually, they get to put a lean on the property. They have significant collateral available to them in the deal. Saying otherwise is just a smokescreen.

I thought this was an interesting project - a Tesla roof.

He spent about $34k on the Tesla shingles and roof repairs/mods.
Regular solar panels would have run $19k plus $12k for roof repairs/mods/shingles.
In the end, the Tesla system was $3,000 more for the same result.

Myself I would have gone with standard 2x4 panels - from a repair and upgrade point of view.

With $2,000 a year off his hydro bill, it was anywhere from a 10 year to 16 year payoff, depending what system he choose and and how you care to do the math. In his case, he has just enough solar to cover his consumption plus a little headroom. At best, HIS household needs are met.

If he had double the space for solar he would cover his own needs AND probably get a $2,000 cheque at year-end.

To me, the smart move is to produce double what you’ll ever need. You’ll be in the hole for half as long, and realize a profit in half the time. Polish math but I think it works?

My hydro rates are going up (provider mismanagement catching up to consumers), but still cheaper than solar panels. Thank god for abundant green hydro dams.

If you exist in a place with coal-fired power plants then ya, solar all the way.

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Insulate First, Solar System Second.


A few years ago I went to a talk by a German Green who was deeply involved with their Energiewende program. He said that German chemical companies were actively salivating over the prospect of cheap noontime solar for their factories. They are gearing up to make chemicals (some of which can be liquid fuels) while the sun shines and save $$$ at the same time.


That’s pretty much what I told the door to door sales drone a couple days ago when they tried to pitch a solar system for my house- I want to make this 50 old house as energy efficient as possible first, which means replacing the single-pane 60’s / 70’s vintage aluminum windows with something more modern, re-working the attic space to not turn it into a heat battery in the summer, and a full remodel of the pool.

I had SolarCity give me a written proposal back in 2014 for a leased system, which I turned down as not being cost effective for me at that time. (Plus, I would have never owned the system, and I would not have gotten any of the tax credits and rebated from that time.

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That’s not correct. Look up UCC-1.

Edit: I would 100% believe that financing companies exist that would put (or try to) a lien on the property, but none of the companies I have dealt with has ever even attempted to do it once, to my knowledge, let alone as a matter of routine.

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The power company is in the business of producing and distributing electricity, that’s what they are (supposedly at least) good at. In some cases they can use spare electricity for pumped storage to even out the load, but in others it makes perfect sense for them to rely on other companies or people to figure out a way to use extra electricity, and pricing is a good way to accomplish this.

I don’t see why the power company should be the best to figure out what to do with extra electricity when you already have lots of people who may adjust their use to take advantage of the varying price. This isn’t late-stage capitalism, but the kind of stuff that capitalism actually is pretty good at.

Where was this? Was this in Florida? I know the utilities companies have been fighting solar tooth and nail over here.

This is in California. I guess it’s a relatively unique organization because a search for “nonprofit solar installer” doesn’t come up with many other organizations, just hits for solar for nonprofits.