As the amount of rooftop solar arrays on homes in the United States grows, power utilities have to find a new way of relating to their customers – and determine whether solar is really saving money when it comes to energy as a whole.
A recent report used data from solar installation and regulation to study the impact on the grid. The researchers found that a wider adoption of solar might have a “relatively modest” impact on average energy retail rates, said a report from Lawrence Berkeley National Lab.
Rooftop solar installation has grown by 66 percent in the United States between 2014 and 2015, driven in part by lowered cost. Over one million solar photovoltaic systems were installed in the United States in 2015, making it the biggest year in solar history.
However, some utilities insist that “net-metering,” in which homeowners can be paid for the excess electricity they feed into the grid, ultimately make prices rise for the utilities and traditional electricity customers. Several states and cities, including New York City, have pushed for more solar and other renewable energy sources, including increased use of communal solar.
In Nevada, a local utility called for the reduction of net-metering and kicked off a conflict that lead to three major solar companies leaving the state. Brookings dug into this and found that net metering does not represent a cost increase for non-solar customers.
There are still some problems that net-metering raises, including volumetric energy charges (in which customers are charged per the amount of energy they use) could make it difficult for utilities to recover costs in an area with a high use of household solar.
The complete look at the pros and cons of solar when it comes to price of electricity can be found at Brookings.