Intermittency Might not be a Big Deal

Rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) installations are taking off. Hawaii, California, New Jersey, Arizona and other Southwest states have aggressive rooftop solar programs.

You’ll learn when you read the feature “Aloha, Fossil Fuels: Aloha, Renewables-Hawaii Integrates Small-scale Renewables” that rooftop solar and other types of distributed generation have allowed Hawaii to reduce its heavy dependence on oil-fired generation and save a lot of money. You’ll also learn that even with renewable generation penetration as high as 68 percent, Hawaii Electric Light Co. has kept the grid operating reliably. The article illustrates that when the electric utility, state government, businesses and consumers work together for a common goal, great things can be achieved.

Another article in this issue highlights a solar PV-centered topic that might cause more anxiety in the electric utility world than technical issues. In the article “When Mom Said ‘Life Isn’t Fair,’ She Meant Net Metering,” you’ll learn that the fairness of solar rooftop generation and net metering, which allows the consumer who owns the solar energy to sell it into the grid, is being questioned by many industry experts. The experts interviewed for this article didn’t say increasing the use of solar energy is bad; they are concerned, however, about who pays for upgrading the grid to make it able to accept large amounts of self-generated electricity.

Rooftop solar panels typically are installed by individuals and households with much higher than average income levels. These self-generators are usually allowed to sell any unused electricity back into the grid at retail rates. They remain connected to the grid so they can sell their electricity back into it and also buy electricity from the utility when their solar installations cannot keep up with their electricity demand and at night and other times the sun doesn’t shine. In other words, the utility is the backup generator when needed and a captive customer at other times. This is a good deal for those who can afford to install rooftop solar, but not so good for the many utility customers who do not have rooftop solar or other self-generating installations.

The costs to upgrade the grid are passed along to all customers, not just those who create the need for such upgrades. This concerns most utility executives. Many believe current net metering legislation provides yet another subsidy for renewable energy-a subsidy that is being paid by many who can least afford it to a few who least need it.

Few self-generating installations exist in most states, and major grid upgrades are not yet necessary. The number of installations will grow, however, and utility executives believe they must work with state legislators now to find a fair way to distribute costs later. HELCO proves that collaboration works.

Editor in chief
TERESA HANSEN

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