The following is a veiwpoint from Anne Hoskins, Chief Policy Officer, Sunrun; Thomas Plagemann, Chief Commercial Officer, Vivint Solar; Abigail Hopper, President and CEO, Solar Energy Industries Association; Tom Starrs, Vice President of Market Strategy and Policy, SunPower; Sachu Constantine, Managing Director of Regulatory, Vote Solar.
Extreme weather events caused $306 billion in total damage last year, with 16 events causing more than $1 billion in damage each, making 2017 the most expensive year on record for disasters in the U.S. Rooftop solar companies jumped into action immediately when these disasters struck - such as mobilizing quickly to deliver safe, 24-hour rooftop solar and battery power to first responders, medical facilities, and community centers across Puerto Rico.
Unlike centralized power plants that can take years to permit and construct and require billions of dollars in transmission expenses, local rooftop solar allows individual customers to help us all avoid and recover from costly hurricanes, wildfires, and floods in the future. As regulators gather at the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) this week in Washington, D.C, it’s critical that we discuss more ways to promote rooftop solar and storage growth. Rooftop solar plus storage can make great contributions to a more resilient, affordable, reliable energy grid of the future.
While solar is needed more than ever, 2017 was a tough year for the industry. The threat of federal overreach from tariffs and tax law changes slowed solar growth in some parts of the country. Complicated rate design proposals and punitive measures, such as adding demand charges to Massachusetts’ residential solar customers, no doubt also stymied growth. Last year was the first year that solar job growth declined in mature markets like Massachusetts and California. Now, SEIA projects that more than 20,000 people could lose their jobs across the country as a result of tariffs just imposed on imported solar cells and modules.
The great paradox is that the opportunity and demand for solar technologies has never been greater. Cost reductions in rooftop solar and home batteries make distributed technology the lowest-cost, most resilient energy available in many parts of the world. Now when there’s an emergency or an extreme weather event, many consumers can configure their systems to run on a built-in backup battery to affordably power their homes’ most critical functions, like refrigerators and key appliances.
And solar companies are busy opening pathways for these consumers to contribute to greater grid reliability, reducing costs for all ratepayers. By providing power locally, rooftop solar and battery consumers reduce the need for utilities to build expensive, outdated power plants, or to replace the old substations, poles and wires that we all pay for. According to 2017 research of the Arizona market, a typical residential rooftop solar system can save utilities $750 in future annual infrastructure costs. The value doubles for an average solar system equipped with storage.
Consumer support for rooftop solar has remained about as consistent as sunshine. When the Pew Research Center surveyed Americans last, roughly 9 out of 10 people favored expanding the use of solar power. The sentiment bridges the partisan divide. More than half of all Western homeowners said they considered installing home solar panels within the past year. Already, more than one million Americans have opted for more control, independence, and local power through home solar.
As regulators convene in Washington, here are a few suggestions to keep consumers happy and the wheels of solar and home battery innovation turning. First, rather than impose new, complex rate structures that deter solar and storage adoption by residential customers, states should consider regulatory incentives to support rooftop solar plus storage. This will enable a more resilient, affordable, reliable energy grid of the future.
Second, we need to keep consumer protection front-of-mind. Before regulators mandate complicated new rate structures such as demand charges, let’s make sure customers can understand the rates and respond to them appropriately. Right now, residential customers can’t. Net metering rate structures are straightforward and still make the most sense for the vast majority of consumers, given the low penetration of rooftop solar in most states. Finally, businesses need certainty. Retraction at the federal level means that now more than ever, we need state leaders to step up and support long-term, consumer-friendly, pro-solar policies.