Rooftop Solar is Harmful, Part 1

Recent activity on the Internet has tried to turn this fact on its head.

While it’s not unexpected that supporters of PV rooftop solar would attempt to turn the facts upside down, the addition of a Tea Party activist to the group supporting PV rooftop solar makes news.

Debbie Dooley, reportedly a founding member of the national Tea Party, and a member of Conservatives for Energy, supports the Florida ballot initiative called Floridians for Solar Choice.

The Floridians for Solar Choice web site says, “Giving Floridians a Voice and a Choice on Energy.”

As expected, the left has grabbed this misguided revolt by a tea party member to exploit her in its campaign for more PV rooftop solar at taxpayer expense.

An article in Grist capitalized on the situation by calling for a “Green Tea Coalition.”

Rather than seeking an impossible dream, these Don Quixotes are proposing a nightmare.

Don Quixote and his sidekick Sancho Panza after Titling at Windmill. By Gustave Dore.
Don Quixote and his sidekick Sancho Panza after Titling at Windmill. By Gustave Dore.

Here is some of the misleading information about PV rooftop solar found on the Internet:

  • People should be free to add PV rooftop solar
  • Utilities are against competition, because it hurts their profits
  • It means lower peak-hour energy prices
  • It’s the Koch brothers who are against PV rooftop solar
  • Fossil fuels get subsidies, why shouldn’t wind and solar?
  • Everyone benefits from PV rooftop solar

These are misleading, inaccurate or just plain wrong.

For example, no owner of a single family home is prevented from installing a PV rooftop solar system.

Any such homeowner can install a PV rooftop solar system and then disconnect their home from the grid.

What the Don Quixotes are actually objecting to is having to buy batteries to provide storage for electricity needed at night or when the sun doesn’t shine. They probably will have to buy enough batteries to last for a week or more for when the weather is bad.

Everyone has the freedom to install PV rooftop solar, it’s just they don’t want to buy batteries. They want to keep sponging off the grid instead.

So the freedom argument is bogus, as is the argument that utilities don’t want competition.

The grid has value, and it’s the cost of buying batteries to store electricity for an extended period of time that, in part at least, establishes the economic value of the grid to homeowners.

It’s true, painfully true, the profitability of utilities will be hurt with PV rooftop solar.

And this is a problem that should concern everyone, because utilities are needed to maintain the grid, and provide electricity to all who want it, at the lowest possible cost.

Germany is living proof that wind and solar can destroy the system that’s based on utilities providing electricity to everyone. Consumers in Germany pay five times as much for electricity as we do in the United States.

Because of energiewende, German utilities are trying to dispose of their fossil fuel assets, which is likely to result in the government having to take over the grid. See, The Bell Tolls and Watching Germany’s Endangered Utilities.

At the core of the problem in the United Sates is that the vast majority of owners of PV rooftop solar installations don’t pay for their use of the grid.

This is especially true with net metering, where utilities must pay to participate in their own destruction.

PV rooftop solar installations can allow homeowners to sell surplus electricity to the grid, in many cases taking advantage of net metering.

Net metering requires the utility to pay the same price for electricity sold to the grid by homeowners, as homeowners pay when they buy electricity from the utility.

If the homeowner pays 12 cents per kWh for the electricity he uses from the grid, he will, with most net metering laws, be paid 12 cents per kWh for the electricity he sells to the grid.

This forces the utility to pay twice as much for electricity as it would cost the utility to generate the electricity itself. For example, the utility would pay the homeowner 12 cents per kWh for electricity it could generate for 5 cents per kWh.

If a restaurant (utility) could grow vegetables in its back yard at a very low cost, should it be forced to buy vegetables from someone else at a high price?

This is what net metering forces utilities to do.

In addition, homeowners with PV rooftop solar installations aren’t paying their fair share of the maintenance and capital costs of the transmission and distribution lines, including all the transformers, cut-outs, regulators, capacitors and switchgear contained in substations and along the power lines.

If the homeowner generates all the electricity he uses, and doesn’t buy electricity from the grid, and then sells electricity to the grid over the utility’s distribution and transmission lines, he isn’t paying anything for the maintenance or other costs of those lines and the infrastructure associated with them.

If the homeowner didn’t have batteries for storage, he might buy some electricity at night and during bad weather, but the amount he pays would be a pittance compared with the actual infrastructure costs incurred by the utility for the power lines used by the homeowner.

The result? Homeowners don’t pay for using the grid while getting paid an excessive amount for the electricity they sell to the grid.

PV rooftop solar is like a cancer eating away at the heart of the utility system.

So long as there are only a very small number of PV rooftop solar installations, the cancer can be tolerated.

But if most people had PV rooftop solar, the utilities wouldn’t be able to survive, which is the situation evolving in Germany.

And what about subsidies, and the claim that everyone benefits from PV rooftop solar?

See Part 2.

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26 Replies to “Rooftop Solar is Harmful, Part 1”

  1. Donn Your almost correct.  Not everyone in Florida can install a Solar Roof top now.  Owners of Condo’s can’t.  Now they are pushing to change that Condo Association must allow Solar Roof Top if some percentage of owners agree.  Don’t know all the facts but do know I couldn’t install a roof top solar on my side of the roof.  Now I know our Board is looking at Solar for our street lighting but the regulations on that is overwhelming. Rich Doug sending this to you because you might find it interesting.  Donn puts out some good stuff. Rich

    • Thanks. I’ll amend my article to reflect that condo owners can’t add PV rooftop solar. Homeowners who are members of a HOA have voluntarily agreed to abide by the covenants, so they have established a contractual relationship beyond the scope of this article.

  2. Interesting and well thought out blog. I think you should send it to our leaders at federal level and state level. They don’t seem to know how it works.

    • Thanks. Interestingly it’s virtually impossible to send information directly to members of Congress or State legislatures, except for message to your own representative. I have tried.
      Next, the person who is most important when communicating with members of Congress etc. is the Chief of Staff, or the staff member having responsibility for a particular area, e.g., energy.
      When I lived in Reston VA, I would drive into DC and visit the various members of Congress and meet with staff members in an effort to get their attention. Even with this personal touch, it’s really difficult to make any headway. After all, they are bombarded by professional lobbyists who have better opportunities to get the attention of members and staffers.
      While it’s difficult to merely send information to Congressmen and women, and their staffers, one of my efforts has been to try to get them, or other influencers, to sign-up to receive my articles.
      If, for example, readers of my articles were to contact their members of Congress, where emails would be accepted because they were hearing from constituents, readers could send links to my articles with a message as to why the articles are important.
      That would help.
      I also attempt to get influencers to sign-up for my articles as they are important when trying to get through to members of Congress etc.

  3. “Any such homeowner can install a PV rooftop solar system and then disconnect their home from the grid.”
    Your research and sci. Are garbage. In Florida if you install a solar panel and disconnect, the state takes you to court.

    • If you disconnected from the grid, the state has no right to take you to court. You are not involved in anyway with the electric utility system.
      My article is factually correct. If you have facts that are new and different, please join the conversation .. with facts.

    • Thanks. Interestingly, if one looks at value, the charges aren’t nearly enough. The ability to use the grid during nighttime and during days of bad weather is a tremendous value not accounted for by trying to determine costs.
      My article indicates one method for evaluating value is what it would cost a homeowner to buy enough batteries to last several days.

      • Donn,

        It would take a lot of batteries to cover three days of demand for the 106 permits that were issued for the week of March 16, 2015 for PV systems in my little county- population of 181,737 (2013). It looks like PG&E has anticipated the new supply of PV in the western portion of my county as they are planning on putting in a rather large battery (4MW) at the “Shingle Springs Bank 2- Camron Park” as noted on page 12 of this report-
        http://www.energy.ca.gov/research/notices/2014-12-01_workshop/presentations/Charlie_Post_Pacific_Gas_and_Electric.pdf

        Back in 2006, when I put my PV system in, PG&E’s interconnection contract precluded any energy storage. The interconnection contracts must have changed recently as Solar City is advertising that they can include Tesla based batteries in their solar programs these days. I have a generator in case the grid goes down.

      • Donn,

        I recently saw that SDG&E’s thoughts on allocating fixed charges to residential (I assume they feel the same way towards their commercial, schools, and governmental self- generation customers) PV customers come closer to how you feel fixed costs should be allocated (vs say how SMUD handles this issue) than how I look at things:

        “The amounts of the proposed DDMSF are considerably higher than $10. Specifically, SDG&E proposed a DDMSF plus monthly fixed charge ranging from a low of $27.78 (up to 3kW) and a high of $79.53 (6 kW and above).” See table CF-12: SDG&E Proposed DDMSF for Optional and Experimental TOU Rates page 190.

        “Decision on Residential Rate Reform” CPUC http://docs.cpuc.ca.gov/SearchRes.aspx?docformat=ALL&DocID=153024891

        Thought you might want the info above for your files. The CPUC did NOT support SDG&E’s approach by the way. As you can tell from the decision the highly tiered residential rates in CA are going to be dropped in favor of a two tier residential pricing scheme- just like our residential rate structure looked back in 2004 or so. There will be a third tier reserved for those folks who exceed 400% of baseline- this should only effect folks with really big mansions, with heated pools, and lots of electronic gadgets.

        As most PV Net Meter customers went with TOU plans, the two PV lease agreements I reviewed for friends required the lease holder to sign up for a TOU plan if they were available from their service provider, you might be interested in the rational used to modify the different time periods in TOU plans discussed here:
        http://www.synapse-energy.com/sites/default/files/Testimony-PGE-2015-Rate-Design-14-082.pdf

    • Yes, there are potential problems with PV rooftop solar systems. The panels and the conduits leading to the inverter are always energized during the day, with voltages of up to around 600 volts. There’s no way to stop the generation of electricity during the day except to cover the panels.
      There are two excellent videos describing the problems with PV rooftop solar systems, the first covering single family homes. is at http://bit.ly/1y5mLqN

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    • We had guests over for the Easter Holiday as well. Lots of dishes for me to clean up, which was an excellent trade for the great food I consumed. Not sure if you have had a chance to review the various development/demonstration projects SMUD has undertaken over the last few years as far as energy storage goes- batteries and their uptake by their customers is summarized on page 47):

      http://www.energy.ca.gov/assessments/ab2514_reports/Sacramento_Municipal_Utility_District/2014-10-28_SMUD_Energy_Storage_Procurement_AB_2514.pdf

      “Retail Market – A SMUD customer could own an energy storage system and use
      it to manage time of use rates and/or demand charges. However, given SMUD’s
      current rate structures, staff’s analysis shows that this is not cost effective for
      SMUD or the customer.”

      • Thanks. I read the entire report, which was very interesting. From my perspective, none of the storage methods can compete with NGCC. The chart shows CAES might be able to, but I am personally not convinced it can, even if a suitable location for CAES can be found.
        Except for the summary graph, the various costs and savings are difficult to fully understand, and the generally only apply to SMUD.
        Overall an excellent report, given the political overtones in having to justify not investing in storage at this time.

      • I concur that the cost/benefit side of things are rather specific to SMUD. I am in favor of their pumped hydo recommendation if they have to add in some more flexibility to their processes.

        I was looking at their report this morning as I was grappling with how (in the short to mid to term) it could be cost effective, or energy efficient, for a homeowner (or I guess a small commercial facility) to combine PV with an EV as well as a stationary battery. I guess I am going to have to listen to D. Lawrence’s pod cast again http://theenergycollective.com/energydeborah/2210771/podcast-energy-247-evs-plus-solar-equals-disruption to see if I am missing something..

        As Spain, like CA, has invested a lot of resources in utility, as well as rooftop solar, and the Transmission and Distribution infrastructure needed to minimize curtailments of RE resources I thought I should maybe see if Spain has figured out how to address all the technical and financial details……. A book review of “Spain’s Photovoltaic Revolution” seems like a good place to figure out how to evaluate a stationary battery, in concert with self generation PV and an EV.

        http://energyskeptic.com/2015/tilting-at-windmills-spains-solar-pv/

        Thankfully, my area got about an inch and a half of rain over the last couple of days.

  5. Thanks. I listened to the Pod Cast. My quick reaction? Too much hype, not enough facts.
    To begin with I don’t see how EVs and PV rooftop solar compliment each other, except for recharging the batteries.That will save a small amount of money. With respect to EVs, it’s not economics that’s causing people to buy them, it’s the $7,500 + rebates, and California’s law requiring zero emission vehicles.
    Also the batteries will have to be replaced at some point, perhaps 100,000 miles, perhaps sooner.
    My previous article touched on batteries, and it’s doubtful they will reach $125 /kWh for at least another ten years.
    The podcast said that the paybacks will soon be 7 to 10 years. That’s not a very good payback.
    First, most people want to trade their cars in after 3 to 5 years, so they can’t recover their investment. Couple that with increased depreciation due to battery life, and many people won’t want to take a chance with buying an EV.
    If current sales are any indication, EVs aren’t flying off the shelves even with rebates. The car the average person will want to buy, will cost at least $8,000 more than a comparable gasoline powered car. Today, it’s more like an $11,000 premium.
    The podcast said wind and solar are already competitive with natural gas and coal, and that just isn’t true. Furthermore, She said their costs would drop by another 50%. She’s drinking Kool Aid.
    Unfortunately people believe this type of hype. Only time will tell whether EVs will become truly economic in the foreseeable future, i.e., 30 to 50 years. Again, unfortunately, I won’t be around to see the final outcome.
    Also, as I have written, PV rooftop solar is inherently uneconomic, so I’m not sure it will be very popular if subsidies are removed.
    Anyway, thanks for the link to the podcast and the information about the book.

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    • Thanks for the article.
      The facts remain that, except in Hawaii, PV rooftop solar is very expensive without the 30% subsidy.
      It seems to me that all conservatives should want to rely on the free market rather than a subsidized system that is uneconomic without subsidies coupled with net metering’s high payment for electricity sold to the grid.
      People are free to add PV rooftop solar nearly everywhere, but the free market should decide whether it is worth installing.
      Unfortunately, PV rooftop solar also has the unfortunate ability to destroy the grid, and force it’s takeover by the government … something conservatives should oppose. See my article next Friday, The Duck Tells All, for a good example of why renewables are a greater problem than most people realize.
      As a reminder, net metering in most states requires the utility to pay the homeowner the residential rate for his excess electricity sold to the utility, so the utility pays the homeowner 12 cents per kWh for electricity the utility could generate for 5 cents per kWh.

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