You can buy solar panels in any electronics store. If you go to the mall, you will run into billboards and displays and salespeople wanting to sell you solar panels. Already, if I walk down the street at least 30% of the houses have solar panels. Lately virtually every single apartment building has put solar panels on the roof. All the farmers are putting up vast solar arrays because they can make more money doing that than growing food (which worries me quite a lot... food security is pretty important for a chain of islands off the coast of China).
I'm really curious to see how this affects pricing going forward.
They expect things will get better once they install a connection between the islands to connect their grids, but for the moment, the power company can't handle the market penetration.
When it comes to solar power, and anything else with externalities, it's always best to be clear whether "can't" means "has no economic incentive to do so" or not.
In this particular case I'd say we are below the optimum level of solar, and it's just poorly aligned incentives.
edit: just to re-iterate this in clearer language:
If they "can" do something if they spent $X million dollars, and $X million dollars is less than the total amount saved by the economy of Hawaii by doing so, then it's not a technical problem, it's an economic co-ordination problem.
If the utility is going to lose money from doing something, because they can't capture all the resulting profit (like lower pollution meaning healthier people) then their employees will say they "can't" do something, as no-one gets promoted for making children healther on the utility shareholders dime. Even though they could if someone gave them the money.
There's lots of BS surrounding solar, and a main thread of it is to pretend that it's going to blow up the electrical grid. The only thing it destroys is some current utility business models.
In that case, the utilities would charge a standby fee for keeping their multi-billion dollar infrastructure in place (it's called a "demand charge" in the utility industry). Then, when you use the electrons during the cloudy period, you'd pay an astronomical "consumption charge", beyond $100/KWh because everyone in the city wants/needs those electrons. The utility share-holders would be fine.
But the people of Hawaii would have the cost of the solar installation PLUS the cost of the traditional grid. The calculation in the article misses this point and only shows the $/KWh consumption costs on the utility side.
So, yes, a huge amount of solar can figuratively blow up the electrical grid.
Sounds like a great argument for municipal generation and storage. If nothing else, it's both cheaper than "everyone on his own" and could lesser the strain for long-distance infrastructure (which could still be nice for geographic smoothing).
> So, yes, a huge amount of solar can figuratively blow up the electrical grid.
Demand-controlled EVs could take a lot of the load. In fact, it's probably one of the sanest applications of massive solar installations (beyond the potential of future power-to-gas tech).
If you can pull power off the grid very cheaply, even get paid to "dispose" of it, then later return it at a profit, you could arbitrage solar capacity.
The basic reason for this to exist, even before renewable energy was a thing, is that, as you point out in your comment, building enough capacity just to serve a peak that may only last for a few hours a year is stupidly expensive. So you take the money that you would have spent on a power plant that would only run for a few hours and you give it to people for turning down their air con or their blast furnace for a few hours, keeping a portion to yourself for being so clever. Free-market solutions that save customers and utilities money, save energy, and save the planet. Everyone is happy!
Contrast this with solar, with a large number of much smaller sources, and on top of the large predictable swings in demand, you add rapid, unpredictable swings in supply to the mix. That is a very different problem. It's solvable, just not using the same techniques and equipment that worked before.
The problem is that the clouds roll in, supply from solar drops off, conventional gen must compensate because the demand is pretty much constant and price insensitive. When the clouds roll-out the dispatchable gen has to back down so the wires don't melt. There are a bunch of concerns with this: generators often don't like being turned on and off, the generators often can't get paid enough to be there when they are needed, they often can't just be turned on and off (more of a problem for steam), and these peak shaving plants are expensive to fuel, burn dirty fuel, and burn it inefficiently.
Reminded me of this article about abrupt power swings during commercial breaks in the UK:
They solved it with partly with on-demand power generated from dams.
If you look on the price map in the article, there is a pale colored blob around Sacramento, which reflects that SMUD's prices are a great deal less than PG&E's. I don't know that solar makes sense if you are on SMUD.
During Spring break (nice sunny but not hot) weather, we generated a surplus (although we would not have if it were cloudy). I'm looking forward to being able to use the A/C this summer w/out getting a $300 to $400 electric bill.
Of course, I'm going to be paying interest for decades (and the loan has to be paid off or transfer with my house if I sell), but it is approximately the same per kwh cost, just to SolarCity instead of my utility, plus I can pay it off if I wish.
Geez, on re-read, I didn't mean this to sound like an ad, but they make it so easy.
I can't imagine an average person doing this.
The costs of storage must to be included for a fair comparison, so that power can either be saved and used by the household, or provided back to the grid. If provided back to the grid, the homeowner should get paid the spot price like every other generator, not full residential rates.
A fair comparison should either include all subsidies, or none. Not just the subsidies we are used to.
If you want to subsidize solar users to bootstrap that market and as a general social good, that's fine. But you have to structure it such that the utility still recoups the cost of maintenance. If they're paying market instead of spot, the paid price is not taking into account the cost of transfer and storage to the utility.
Net pricing does just the opposite - it disincentivizes storage. Is that really the type of subsidy you'd support?
Sorta. Because solar is distributed the economics related to transmission are different. If your solar panel is mostly powering your neighbours air conditioner then you are reducing peak load on the transmission system which can be a very valuable thing. If your solar panel is powering someones air conditioner one state over then there is no benefit to the distributed generation.
The catch is that the situation can change from hour to hour and day to day. The proper amount to pay the small distributed generators can be hard to determine.
Spot prices are already location-dependent, and yes a real distributed smart grid would do this on a micro scale, and a correctly designed smart grid would incentivize local storage. Which is what I think you mean by "hard to determine".
I mean "should" depends on the goal of the pricing policy right? If the goal is a "fair comparison", perhaps the policy makers should include the cost of mitigating externalities in the price of carbon-producing electricity sources.
Net metering is no substitute for a price on carbon. For real green power, we need to storage to balance out solar generation. Net metering /prevents/ storage from being installed.
EDIT: Never going to happen? Actually it's /already/ happened. Examples:
- California already has a low carbon fuel standard that regulates "well to wheel" carbon content of transportation fuels (some sources like tar sands have high carbon emissions in the production process). This is a significant step towards a real carbon price and an opening to provide fuels generated through a green process.
- California' Emission Performance Standard (EPS) no longer allows use of coal-generated electricity which has caused a complete phaseout of coal plants in favor of natural gas (which has half the carbon intensity). Again, this is a restriction of the carbon-intensity of power generation which is also an effective step towards a carbon price.
In a well regulated electricity grid, storage is used at the grid level, not at consumer level. Net metering (which is good regulation) limits the latter, not the former, it actually increases the demand for grid storage by increasing the amount of solar supply.
Where does solar win in the current political/economic environment and where is it close to winning? Making forward progress in the next decade is going to help more than wishing for a level playing field.
Maybe we can push solar costs lower once the industry grows:
As of today, there are still 50 states to go, plus the rest of the world. Better sell your beachfront property. Time"s up.
It absolutely is since there is no price on carbon and no realistic prospect of one any time soon.
Of course, that's probably not enough. See Greg Mankiw's "invitation to the Pigou club" where he discusses the research on the "correct" value (estimated at between $80 and $300 per ton): http://scholar.harvard.edu/files/mankiw/files/smart_taxes.pd...
The home owner then buys a few kW of battery storage and saves the energy for their own use later. This has the same effect on them as net metering once they pay for the storage unit, but only up to the point that they produces exactly as much as they use.
In other words, installations whose sole function is energy arbitrage, charging storage banks when power is cheap and discharging when it's pricey.
But if you think a utility has a special responsibility to the public, and I for one do, it's hard to defend charging me more for a kW coming into my home one moment than I get for one going out the next.
Either the other generators should pay a significant carbon tax or the solar / wind producers should get a significant subsidy for polluting less.
Whichever way you look at it there's no justification for giving the same tax treatment to both coal and solar. One imposes an enormous externality and the other doesn't.
Whether it's a subsidy for one or a tax for the other is somewhat immaterial. The point is that they shouldn't be taxed the same.
Currently coal and gas actually receive massive subsidies, too, while a 30% tariff is slapped on most solar panels imported from China which is even more perverse. We're literally subsidizing pollution because coal/gas are tight with out politicians, while cheaper, cleaner forms of electricity generation are rendered purposefully less competitive.
The same? Not even, fossil fuels get significant subsides on top of paying nothing for the emissions and that's just the tip of the iceberg.
In June 2010, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said $557 billion was spent to subsidize fossil fuels globally in 2008, compared to $43 billion in support of renewable energy.
If these are the numbers that fed into the $557 billion and $43 billion then it appears the US is responsible for a trivial amount of the fossil fuel subsidies worldwide and over 40% of the renewables subsidies.
 I know the numbers in the report are for 2010 and 2013, while the big numbers are for 2008. I'm assuming the other numbers have scaled similarly since then.
Harvard Medical School estimates that coal costs the US half a trillion (yes, trillion) dollars every year in externalities that the public, not the coal industry, or the utilities, pay the price for. The total accounted for in your document, for all energy types is only $40 billion, more than a factor of ten less.
You can have a fascinating semantic discussion about whether those half a trillion dollars, every single year, are a subsidy or not, but either way they're getting paid by the US public when a bit more "sudsidy" for solar could have avoided them.
For my particular location, assuming a 25 year system lifespan, I calculate LCOE of 5.6 cents/kWh. Way, way cheaper than PG&E. Even without the tax credit, it's still a significant savings at 8 cents/kWh LCOE.
Of course this math only makes sense if you're reasonably sure you're going to stay put for a significant portion of those 25 years.
That 8 cent difference is mostly the cost of distribution and storage or variable supply. Distribution from the roof to the home would be inexpensive, but storage is not cheap. Asking utilities to accept solar energy input at this flat rate in exchange for the variable supply and grid backup may work for a small fraction of society, but it will hit a critical mass sooner or later and become infeasible.
According to that site a $20k install would pay itself off in 6 years. That is compelling.
(I could have gone bigger and come close to covering all of my household power needs, whereas the current system gets maybe 60% or so, but I'd have had to cut down the big old cedar tree which shades part of my roof, and that just seemed like it would be missing the point somehow.)
Also I seem to get a new roof every 5 or so years due to all the hailstorms we get around here. I suspect solar panels don't like big hailstones very much and I have no idea what would happen if both the roof and panels are damaged. I doubt a roofing company is well equipped to handle the panels.
If you go to buy a house in 2020 that had a system installed in 2012, the panels etc would be fairly dated (plus wear and tear), and there would still be 12 years left on the contract. I'd insist on paying less for the house due to being saddled with the obligation, or the homeowner would have pay (a lot) to get out of the contract early.
Like you I too see dramatic improvements over the next few years, hence committing now not being a good decision.
A quick look on Wikipedia says Denver has sunshine 70% of the time totaling ~3,100 hours a year. I'm from MI where we see sun about once a week so I'm out of touch, but that seems like it should be more than enough to recoup costs.
Is the amount of sunshine in Denver significantly different from where you're at, or is there something else I'm missing?
$3.50/W is WAY higher than I paid per watt last year after the federal tax rebate. I had 3.125kW installed on my roof for $2.16/W. Looking at the map, Denver gets grid parity between $2.00 and $2.50 and that has exactly been my experience with the panels.
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There are also power companies who pay their users a discount if they're allowed to install solar panels (http://www.komando.com/happening-now/325802/power-companies-...)