Utility companies go to war against solar

You neglected to mention the next line of the article you quoted for the half a trillion price tag, where it says it will save taxpayers 2 trillion dollars over the same 20 year period.
We’ll likely all be chipping into the pot to pay for the damage from climate change, which has been estimated to be as high as 25% of GDP

We also currently subsidize the health care costs of people effected by coal and oil air and water pollution.
Solar vs. HC power generation has significant societal benefit, so I’m not sure that it makes sense to financially penalize anyone doing it.
I agree with you, in that we should have a space race/rural electrification level federal effort to get this done.
Also in the article is the mention that: “By the year 2050, EPRI estimated the average electric bill will probably go up by about 50 percent if the smart grid is deployed. If not, Gellings said, the average electric bill could go up by almost 400 percent.”

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Personally, I would like to be as ‘off-grid’ as possible… How much does it cost to put in a storage system for the excess?
I suppose the most economic method would be the most environmentally negative one i.e. lead-acid batteries.


Storage of solar power is an interesting problem. Batteries suck.

The power generation facility at Niagara Falls has been storing energy for a hundred years, pumping extra water uphill at might to make more head of water available in the daytime. If the process were changed around a bit, it would work for solar storage.

The problem is that all that power that’s being stored has to flow on power lines from places with a lot of sunshine to places with excess hydroelectric generation capacity and storage lakes. And it has to flow in the six hours of the day that the sun shines brightest. That means a lot of wires, and the power companies are just now working on how to pay for those wires.

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Where I live the cost of the electricity and the cost of the delivery are separated. I would expect to pay 0 for electricity and not change what I pay for delivery, if I generated enough power. If I generated more, I would expect to be paid for my output at a fair rate - less than what I pay per kwh but not 0. I’m still paying for the infrastructure.

I think the $4.90 fee was a trick. They asked for $50 and knew they’d get less, but something was better than nothing.


Cost out what the power company fees are, then apply that money to battery arrays to store your excess power to use later. And then buy less from the power companies, thereby not feeding power to the monster. They should not be encouraged.

(If you have too much of an excess, play more Xbox and offer to plug in your neighbor’s freezer.)


Fair assessment overall, except that peak solar power generation doesn’t coincide with peak household energy usage. Selling power to the grid is basically a way to time-shift that power generation – a smarter substitute for storage. Without that ability, solar power is a lot less useful. (And then the conservatives step in and say solar is worthless and we need to drill more oil and mine more coal and deregulate Big Energy more.)

It makes great environmental sense for power companies to provide that kind of service, but they need financial motivation and it’s not really there.

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Neighborhoods need to build one of those Tesla power distribution towers… They could light the streetlights without wires (the only thing I recall being powered by his tower).


The fix is really simple, but they will never do it -
We already have a grid, and said grid needs to be updated, of course, but the means with which to transmit electricity where the bulk of people live in cities and suburbs is in place and working.
Therefore, the utility companies (which should be public again, but that’s another argument) should work with cities, counties, and the state to retrofit existing blocks of residential and commercial buildings with solar to put into the grid. Every available square foot should be covered and the owners should get partially subsidized power based on what is generated from their roof.
Further, especially in places like the southwest NO BUILDING OF ANY KIND should ever be built without solar. It should be part of the building code like smoke-detectors.


Even when you separate the distribution costs (which are separated in my bill too) there is a difference between the value of energy that is available whenever the sun or wind choose to grace us with power and that which is available whenever that power is demanded. You can’t turn on the sun when people start their clothes dryers, and you can’t turn off the wind after everybody has gone to bed. So power companies maintain a considerable surge capacity that has to be available at a moments notice. Now Solar works pretty well for sunny/hot places because normally the greatest demand is when the sun is shining and the temps are hottest, since many people have air-conditioning. But you still have to adjust power generation in response to clouds…

In some Las Vegas neighborhoods, there are gas light streetlights that sit there burning all day all night, powered by some unknown mega gas source. I think a big Tesla coil feeding power to everything in a zone would be amazing.

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Unknown mega gas source in Vegas? I assume that the source is somehow linked to the buffets…


Those savings - while very real - cannot be placed on a utility company’s balance sheet. It’s made up of lots of little amorphous savings spread out among everybody, not something that a single entity can point to as a return-on-investment. The general benefit is more than worth it, but that’s not much consolation to whoever has to foot the bill. The savings will be spread thin, that’s why the cost must be spread thin as well.

No. Government is here to do big things that private industry can’t or doesn’t want to do. At least public utilities belongs to me/us. Allowing utilities to be private is not in my interests.


Your analogy about efficiency of scale is only partially accurate. One of solar’s biggest benefits (and curses) is that its output scales almost linearly with system size - a 1,000kW plant makes about as much energy as a hundred 10kW plants. There is some efficiency in the installation when applied to a larger plant, but that efficiency is less about materials and energy, and more about labor and time.

This is in contrast to wind, concentrating solar thermal, or almost any other energy system where efficiency increases dramatically as the system size goes up. So having solar on many rooftops takes a bit more labor, you aren’t giving up much in terms of benefit to the grid or carbon offsetting.

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Yes and no, in that plan B for not doing the smart grid is passing it directly on to the public, in terms of paying 4 times as much on our utility bills for the increased cost of doing business. I would notice the benefit to paying 50% more vs. paying 4 times as much. So in that way it’s more a win win, less so a shit sandwich. You also seem to be conflating all the changes required to fix and modernize an aging grid with necessary changes needed to accommodate solar, whereas the additional changes to add solar are not considered that significant, compared to the total cost of modernizing the grid.

Something like this MIT project would be nice for the rest of the world.

Shows the insolation for all building in Cambridge, MA. Click on a rooftop and it shows the cost to owner for solar panels and the revenue per month & year.


On my bill, there are separate charges for electricity generation and for the infrastructure used to deliver it. Both currently scale with kWh used, but I believe the latter actually does have a monthly minimum charge to cover simply keeping it up.

So as I said earlier, this may be a matter of how well your own region has been preparing for this trend.

Yep. Which is why the solution of selling excess power back to the grid is such an effective one – no local batteries to maintain. The downside is that if the grid goes down you not only lose storage but in most cases lose local power too – the inverters are designed to take themselves offline to avoid the risk of keeping a power line live and dangerous when the utility thinks it has been disconnected for repair. There are some systems which can be manually switched into “island mode”, but again unless you’re willing to spend too much money maintaining a pile of batteries…

There’s been a proposal to let people use the batteries in their hybrid vehicles as local power storage, and even to let them lease that capability to the utility for load balancing (“You can take back up to N% of my charge if you need to, paying me for that power at a premium rate to make up for the inconvenience of my not being fully charged.”)


Depends on whether it’s in front, or out back . . .


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