Solar Panels Need A ‘Rethink’

Solyndra ‘Dreams’

Any discussion of solar energy usually involves Solyndra. Solar energy is free, right? Solyndra received a $535 million federal loan guarantee, but went bankrupt only months later. It was clearly stated solar entities did not have job-growth as many companies claimed, but they existed by government intervention in the free market.

Evidently, the solar sector exists for the most part due to government subsidies, tax credits, and mandates. All this is from the NC Capitol Connection. For other states, net-metering policies – adopted in 43 states years ago – are now having a detrimental impact on groups who can’t afford solar. This majority of energy users are faced with higher electricity bills as a result of these policies. The cost to serve net-metered customers is shifted to the non-solar customers. This cost shift is happening all around the country. One needs to have a high credit score or cash to get solar panels. Usually a solar user isn’t renting, or living in apartments not able to get solar systems, or 50 percent of families who live from paycheck to paycheck.

Non-‘Solars’ Hurt By Net-Metering

Net metering policies have been around for decades and the details vary from state to state. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 mandated that all public utilities must provide net metering options when requested by customers. Currently 43 states and the District of Columbia have adopted formal net metering policies.

For any low income household, the cost for household energy can represent >37% of their income. With net-metering, the energy cost burden has dramatically increased. What happens is the cost to serve net-metered customers is shifted to the non-solar customers. The California State Public Utilities Commission estimated the cost to non-solar customers will be more than $1 billion annually by 2020-just in California.

The current net-metering creates a financial burden for customers who can’t afford to install expensive solar panels on their homes. For those customers, the cost of electricity will get more expensive as they pay a larger share of the cost to operate and maintain the nation’s grid.

With 578,000 individual solar installations in the US today, solar accounts for only 2 percent of the nation’s total capacity. Some aspects of generating individual electricity has to be considered, and worked into one’s over-all electrical system. They include night-time, overcast days, high usage, unexpected weather events (i.e., hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, etc.) and general shut-downs for earthquakes and unexpected events.

It’s true net-metered customers with operating solar panels do have some advantages over normal electrical users at times. As opposed to centralized generation, “distributed generation” systems are small, on-site energy sources located at homes or businesses. Usually, this technology is rooftop solar panels. Once installed, these panels essentially convert a home or business into a small power plant generating electricity to help lower the owner’s electric bills. They ‘sell’ excess electricity back to the utility when panels generate more than is immediately needed.

‘DLC’ Extraneous

This explains why some customers in California are legally required to pay a fee for electricity they don’t use. Called a “departing load charge” (DLC), it’s collected from utility customers who self-generate with anything other than solar panels. These DLC surcharges are used to pay off various debts assumed by politicians in the name of utility customers more than decade ago.

Usually, utilities would be forced to pay almost 300 percent more for electricity than it could receive from the free market. Utilities then pass these costs onto non-solar customers to maintain reliable service. This cost shift from solar users to their non-solar neighbors has driven various net-metering debates.

Adding in costs for supplementing net-metering customers, and you’ve just increased the normal energy-cost burden. Shockingly, in five years, US solar capacity has grown a huge 993 percent.

It’s clear from demand curves by 6:00 pm when “peak demand” hits, solar Photo-Voltaic, PV, provides little to no relief for the utility. The utility always has to match supply with demand.

democrat solar panels
Subsidized Solar Panels shift costs

Storms A Real Kick In Butt

It must be remembered solar energy is always intermittent. If it’s a dark stormy day, or the sun has gone down, solar panels will not work and will experience potentially dangerous power spikes. Current net metering policies tend to emphasize a solar customer’s role as an energy producer while failing to recognize its place as an energy consumer. It is important to remember if a solar panel is put on someone’s roof, their home is still reliant on the grid for power most of the day.

Where everything hits the road, the installed cost of solar panels is close to $7-$9 per watt. A 5 kW system costs $25,000-$35,000. A system generating about $75 of electricity/mo would take a long time to pay for itself. Usually a system costing $18,000 has a payback period of 20 years. The cost of installation of a solar panel today $5- $6 per watt.

Only 2 percent of the nation’s capacity is captured by PV users. Only the very rich have them, take a very long time to pay back the initial cost, and regular electricity users are eventually going to get fed up with the higher cost due to net-metered customers.

Oh, how we can weave such convoluted get-rich schemes!

Kevin Roeten
A former Chemical Engineer, Kevin Roeten enjoys riding the third rail of journalism: politics and religion. He is a Guest Columnist for the Asheville Citizen-Times, and the Independent (Ohio), writes for numerous blogs, is an amateur astronomer, and delves into scientific topics.