California has more solar power installed than any other state — by far. It is also first in terms of percentage of the state’s electricity coming from solar, and third for solar power capacity per capita.
Some are questioning if there’s too much solar power on the grid and joining the grid to keep incentivizing it as the state has been doing. In fact, it appears there’s a pretty strong push to reduce solar incentives in the state. But is it smart to cut back on solar power incentives at this stage?
The core incentive in the state that certain entities, such as utilities, are targeting is net metering. Actually, utilities have been targeting net metering for several years. With net metering, rooftop solar power owners can get reimbursed at retail electricity rates for any excess electricity they generate and send back into the grid. Considering that rooftop solar power now costs considerably less than California retail electricity on a system’s lifetime basis, net metering on top of the US federal solar tax credit encourages a lot of homeowners to go solar.
There are two problems that are rising from all this goodness, though. One is that the payments to the rooftop solar power owners have to come from somewhere. As the story is told, higher-income ratepayers get the benefits of the rooftop solar incentives and lower-income ratepayers who are less likely to get solar (because they are less likely able to get solar) have to foot the costs with higher utility bills. It seems that there should be a way for the state to step in and cover the costs of these incentives, at least enough to not put any extra weight on the shoulders of lower-income residents, but that’s not the focus of policy proposals to resolve the matter. Instead, the utilities and certain allies just want to reduce net metering payments, and to charge owners $49 to $79 a month for a 5-kilowatt solar PV system.
The other issue is that more and more solar power generated in the middle of the day is leading to times in which supply exceeds demand and electricity has to be curtailed. The value of the electricity generated at those times isn’t close to retail price, yet that’s how much owners are being compensated. Again, the proposal is to start charging rooftop solar PV owners monthly fees and reduce their net metering rates. The aim is to reduce net metering rates to 25–50% of what they are today by 2027.
There is a matter that is ignored here because it’s not directly related to solar — electric vehicles. California may be the US leader in electric vehicle sales, but it still has a long way to go before most vehicles are electric. As the fleet of California vehicles electrifies, though, there’s more and more potential to soak up extra solar power when it’s most generated. EV drivers can be better incentivized to charge at high-production times, and vehicle-to-home or vehicle-to-grid technology can further free up EV battery capacity in those high-solar periods and a more balanced supply–demand calculus 24/365 (24 hours/day 365 days a year).
Overall, with such a great need to cut emissions by stopping the use of fossil fueled power plants and fossil fueled cars, it doesn’t seem sensible to me to reduce any incentives for going solar. It seems more logical to make better use of all the electricity cerated by solar power systems in the middle of the day and to cover the costs of these incentives with state funding that is paid by polluting companies. Don’t slow solar power adoption down. Speed up innovative ways of more flexibly using that solar electricity, through vehicle-to-home tech, vehicle-to-grid tech, and better time-of-use pricing. It’s not necessarily easy or simple, but any policies that are essentially aimed at slowing down renewable energy adoption — when renewable energy adoption still isn’t fast enough to stop the global climate crisis — just can’t seem sensible to me.
What do you think? Does California solar net metering need to be cut 25–50% in the next 5–6 years? Should rooftop solar PV owners have to pay a monthly fee? Should the utilities and the state find innovative ways to solve the duck curve and keep lower-income bills from rising that don’t involve disincentivizing rooftop solar? Were my suggestions intelligent, idiotic, inadequate, or going in the right direction?
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