Solar Vs Utility Companies – Why This Concerns You?
By Steven De Nazareth
Updated: April 8th, 2019
This is an Article published for the Benefit of Homeowners reading our Articles regularly so that one can walk the path of sustainable energy!
There’s no denying that the onset of new, improved and environment-friendly trends is putting a damper on age old companies that have been functioning without much regard for the environment. Having to re-establish their production methods and use materials and waste disposal strategies, manufacturing units being shut down as alterations are not viable to their manufacturing and market costs. The drive towards a green economy is constantly being resisted by a large section of multinational companies around the world.
Besides alterations in production strategies, the other game changer has been utility companies and their slow but hopefully steady replacement due to solar and green energy demands from consumers. As the demand for solar energy in residences begins to increase, the traditional utility industry will take a hit not only in its retails sales and day to day transactions but also in terms of an overall loss of customer base. Eventually, the industry could even become obsolete, but that’s a discussion for later on utility companies and solar power.
The main trade association and executives of the utility industry have seen the onset of this impending threat, and have been calling for meetings and conferences. Using these to reach out to the electricity providers for support, utility companies have been playing a part in keeping door-to-door solar power insurgency at bay.
The Ups and Downs of Solar versus Utility
Electric and fossil fuel monopolies are right to feel the threat though, as even the individual state governments and metering laws are creating rules and instructional loopholes to encourage home solar paneling. States such as Wisconsin and Arizona, amongst others, have imposed net metering as a system of electricity billing. Through net metering, a customer who is using solar energy at home gains monthly credit for the surplus power that they produce and provide to the electricity grid of that region. Even though a small amount is to be paid additionally if net metering is voted in your state, know that your electricity bill as a solar energy consumer will be considerably lowered; enough to offset the cost of installing solar panels at the first place– hiking prices. Though it may seem that the shift is absolute, even solar energy consumers are relying on the run of the mill electricity grid during overcast winters and nighttime. A marginal reduction in daily usage is not causing any cuts in maintenance, investment capital for transmission lines, and upkeep of the grid.
The debate of Solar Vs Utility still remains as two sides of a coin, with solar having on its side the bigger picture of a future green economy. Studies being conducted in individual states are most often steering towards the advent of solar as a domestic energy source causing harm to the economic balance, with an immediate counter response from environmental lobbyists. The claim is straightforward – the clean energy lobby argues that the traditional and fossil fuel powers are rigging the results and focusing on only negatives. Louisiana is one such state, where studies showed a transferral of over two million dollars to be shouldered by non-solar consumers due to the utility sales drop.
On a positive note that looks at aspects besides those that are environmental, research in states such a Mississippi and Nevada see solar as the way to go. From being able to bear the brunt of excess demand during summer months, produce almost twice as many jobs and be in tandem with the greenhouse emission laws, solar comes out the winner. The whopping two million that are being employed are also seen to have working conditions far better than the coal miners. Questions like “What is keeping solar energy from widespread use?” should be answered.
Utility’s Side of the Story
The problem when it comes to the utility industry’s sustenance is twofold. The first is to address the price hike which is inevitable when the demand drops, not to mention the possible compensation for individuals who are using solar to reduce the stress on the electrical grids.
The second is how utility power hubs will re-align their structure to accommodate for this shift, and think of ways to meet the clean energy drive halfway. Unfortunately, there is no way to tackle the second without fixing the war that is being fought over the first.
The majority of traditional electricity power plants that cater to individual households and residential areas in the US are investor owned. These have a much greater role to play when it comes to vetoing the solar power takeover. Investor-owned power plants function in four simple steps. First, they get an estimate of the power demand of a given area and consequently calculate the monetary estimate required to fulfill the quota. This money is then looked at from the separate perspectives of the consumer and the investor. The rate per unit of electricity is calculated, looking at not only the demand of the consumer but at the incentive for investors to look their way by offering them a favorable return rate. This is where solar vs electric needs to be tested.
This system is foolproof until the point that they are faced with a competitor – solar power. Solar energy users continue to use the grid that has been set up along with the utility’s other services. This is where the true problem lies – even the basal costs of the utility sector are now being borne by those that are opting for traditional sources. Net metering is allowing solar power users to practically zero out their bills if they meet their own monthly requirement for electricity. Utility companies in states like Texas and California are fighting this law and focusing on its lack of sustainability.
The Solar Point of View
While the arguments that utility companies pose theoretically do have their credibility, in the real world it is rather clear that the incentive is still driven by their fear of revenue drop. When the investment for electrical systems shifts from the hands of shareholders to individual households, the concept of rates in terms of return to the investor is moot.
Customers who once had no option but to rely on Investor-Owned Utility companies now have the option of taking their domestic electrical needs into their own hands. Naturally, this lack of dependency translates into a very direct drop in utility companies yearly profits.
When a utility company complaints about the potential rate increase for the traditional energy source users, and fixates their argument on the fact that solar users do not pay for servicing and maintenance, a new argument is thrown into the mix. Is the demand that the utility companies are projecting really accurate anymore?
Solar lobbies state that the rate of maintenance, expansion and employee increase that utility companies are projecting is unrealistic. The fact is, widespread use of green energy resources will only reduce the load on the electrical grid, hence reducing the need for regular fixing. Utility grids are not taking this into account, instead of using an inflated demand rate to rope in a greater number of investors, and possibly hiking rates of monthly unit usage in order to meet their return rate. This is where there should be a bridge between the two in creating solar utility companies.
The other statement of fact that solar advocates are backing is the fact that a utility-based electrical grid system never produces solely based on demand. This points to the fact that the rate of electrical units is not actual. Experts say that if rooftop solar panels were distributed and installed, then just the reduction in demand would handle issues related to loading increase. This would lead to a much better management of resources for all involved.
Meeting Halfway in the ensuing Solar Vs Utility Companies battle
All said and done, though the Solar versus Utility debate has its subjective points of view, not to mention numerous pros and cons on either side, the reality remains the same. The need for green energy is a necessity for sustenance on a global scale, and yet the twenty-first century is straddled between the traditional resources and those that are now deemed clean. This is where utility companies are against solar power.
A time of transition in all ways possible has certain existential questions that cannot be ignored. How are the economically backward supposed to sustain if traditional power grids cease to function stably? Alternatively, if solar resources are negated and shut down then will the global economy, fossil fuel depletion and environment be really able to survive?
Though the deliberation is on, individual states are beginning to look for solutions that will tackle both sides sustainably. Vermont, California and even New York are beginning to approach the utility sector as a large power bank of service, instead of just a source of electricity. This may alter the relationship between solar grids and utility grids, allowing them to cross paths without having to lose either form of resource.
States like Arizona are proof that the present model of a utility power structure is not functional anymore, and they are bound to see a decline in revenue and balanced functionality if they continue to look at solar distribution as the villain. There is a theory that the only way to force the utility companies and government’s hand to address the reality of the issue is to block out subsidies and address the question of how sustainable and affordable power can be distributed in such a situation.
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