The bailout line was a good hook for this article, but the real value was the very well stated discussion on what distributed power means for utilities. It does not mean that they die, but they have to move from power providers to service providers - just as phone companies did (very good anology). The good news for them is that when power is lower cost, people will use more of it. So, being the middle man between whoever produces and whoever consumes will be a very, very lucrative business. Just not the same as the one they are in now.
I am surprised and disappointed at the tone and lack of informed discussion in the comments following this interesting article.
Installed (onshore) Wind and Solar are economical so long as you have enough wind or sun. The costs have come down tremendously in a relatively short time, mainly because more and more people are in the game. The incentive programs made this happen by giving assurance to the investors, but they are ramping down quickly, because they are hardly needed except politically. Today, PPA's are working well directly with the utilities who don’t see renewables as a threat, but instead as the future.
The future clearly will have a lot of renewable power, because the costs will continue to come down. What other energy generation can state that?
What really disappointed me in the comments were old saws like the cost to produce wind vs the payback. Not only has this been debunked for a long time, but we even see a growing trend in wind to upgrade old farms. It is very logical to triple the power for an existing infrastructure, and you even can sell the old turbines to low cost markets. This is not about recovering cement!
At the same time, we now see billion dollar and growing projects to decommission nuclear plants - and we still don't have any economic way to deal with the radioactive waste. That said, I would welcome incentives to develop such solutions, rather than subsidizing “storage” of wastes. But even then, Nuclear suffers from the fact that you can make bombs. That limits a lot who gets plants. I don’t think we mind so much if Iran builds big wind farms!
Let's keep our focus. The goal is and should be low cost, clean energy. We are on track to achieve that in a way that does not lead to geopolitical war or strife. Surely that is good for all of us!
Microinverters make sense if you have lots of shading, but otherwise not so much, especially for residential. Even if the failure rates are lower, inverters will fail. Let's say they fail every 7 years. With DC, you fix/replace the full inverter (probably at a lower cost and with better features), and away you go. With microinverters, you need to get up on the roof, pull out the one panel, and swap the unit. Warranty? Great! Now you get up, pull it out, ship it off, wait for a replacement, then go up again to put it back. You are not a DIY guy? No problem, just pay someone to do it. Now think that you have 30 on your roof. They start failing one per year for the next 18 years. This is just not economical - and you are building in an assumption that the company that gave you the warranty will be around in 7, 15, 20 years. How many companies are around from 20 years ago? Sorry, but for my own house, I would go DC, put a brand name inverter from a major company, and sleep soundly.
There is no argument that we need baseload power and that this has to come from fossils or nuclear. What we need to decide is how fast we want/can move to a much higher balance of renewable energy. Storage will be important, but at the same time, we should be weaning ourselves from dirty coal, then "clean" coal, and figuring out how to really deal with nuclear. Nuclear fission research needs to continue, but we also should have a serious dialogue on what to do with spent fuel and old plants. We are dreaming if we think we can just 'bury" stuff that has half-lifes in the thousands of years!
I am a big supporter of renewables, because really they are just at the start, yet already costs are almost down to the same as coal. Of course, wind and solar can't run 24x7, but if the costs keep dropping that is of little matter. We can then pay for storage easily.
I always ask people - if you could put solar on your house for $10K, would you? The answers are mostly, "No." Then I ask - if you could put it on for $1000? The answer is ALWAYS, "YES!"
We have not really had any technology improvement in solar - just continuous improvement and scale. Obama has done the right thing to go after this, and guaranteed, the innovations are coming.
Wow, one or two people said they had a problem, so it must be a huge trend! Geeze, what a reach this article is. I am not saying it might not require some work to position the lease correctly, but overall, having solar has been clearly shown to increase the resell value. This is like someone saying that people wouldn't buy his house with a pool, because they were concerned about the maintenance. Yes, it could happen, but most people would get it that a guaranteed lower energy bill at no cost to them is a good thing.
I am not saying Dorian did not have a problem, but I just don't see this as a big issue for solar leases. (By the way, I would not do a solar lease. I am pretty convinced that you can do it yourself and the financials would be better. But, it is the same for buying a car. Some people will always choose to pay less as they go and leave the value to someone else.)
One thing no one ever talks about for Germany is that while consumer rates for electricity are high, the business rates are low - due to renewable power. in fact, this is why the Utilities there are struggling. They can't charge premium prices during the day anymore, because on a free and open market there is more than enough power. Germany is very committed to industry which generates jobs. Germans basically get this, so while they complain about high home bills, they also support renewable power and getting rid of nuclear. They understand that having jobs trumps your monthly electric bill.
Sorry to say, but in the US, we seem to want only that corporations make high profits. Jobs are talked about, but what policies are there that drive jobs? Then, we want everything very cheap (hello Walmart), and complain that any rise in costs will "crush the middle class." We ignore the fact that the jobs then go to the lowest possible labor cost countries.
We can fix our problems, but we should really focus on what creates jobs. it is not financial manipulations, or kowtowing to business so that their profits increase. It is simply rewarding companies that employee and produce domestically for the domestic market at least.
Renewables certainly create lots of local jobs - and could create more if we incentivize building up in country - like the Chinese are doing. This isn't rocket science, but we need to have adult conversations about real facts - and focus on jobs, good jobs, and more good jobs.
I think the road idea is good. This is not taking land that is used for anything except cars. Even with traffic, the exposure on roads is actually quite good. You would not put this in dense driving areas unless for the other features of the snow / ice melt, but roads are all over - and easily connected to the grid. If we really had our act together, instead of arguing on paper, we could designate some champion towns in America to pilot such projects and then estimate the costs / beneifts at scale.
I am a big fan of solar and wind. The costs continue to drop with a relatively tiny investment. Imagine where they can be in 10 years. At the same time, getting rid of polution and hazardous energy sources can only be good for us. After all, no matter how rich you are, you still need clean water and clean air to live.
The people doing leases are getting paid for capital risk pure and simple. They also can manage the supply chain and costs plus accounting to make this pay. Assuming you did it yourself, your other option is a loan (bank paperwork), permitting paperwork, installer contract, hope the guarantee holds, and so on. It is NOT like buying or leasing a car, because the product suppliers of cars are big entities that will be around for many years. In solar, even the biggest providers have gone under, so there is much less assurance. A lease takes all that away, you get a smaller, but real savings, and in time, have a low cost / green energy source at your house. Oh, and it also increases the resale value of your home. We now start to see leases showing up in Europe...
Why the anger. This is not the government giving Walmart money for solar - just saying that it is a good example of a company putting up solar. Sorry for the individual installers who could not sell to Walmart, but big companies always like to deal with big companies centrally. That is why Solar City has a stock that is going up...
I find it funny that somehow having a lot of basically free power is somehow not economical. The only reason the price goes to zero in places like Germany is because there is still a big baseload that can't easily be switched on and off. Actually, you could easily run with more than 50% renewables and everyone make money - but PV and wind are disruptive in that they are easy to install and quickly produce locally - which screws up the Utility model of building a big center that has to amortize overy many years.
We will work through this, because lower cost of energy is a good thing - especially when it is clean. Think about cell phones vs. land lines. In the US, it was very disruptive for phone companies, but in Africa and India, it has enabled quick growth of phones. In the end, no one wants to go back to "Ma Bell!"
We will find solutions to the storage issue. The PV and wind costs keep dropping, and other technologies will come along as well. That changes the entire equation. A few years ago, PV panel efficiency and efficienty of inverter was a huge deal - because the panels were the biggest cost. Today, that is not the case, and you can use more panels (oversize) and a less efficient inverter and that drops the cost. Of course, the inverter makers now can make the highly efficient inverters for lower cost as well, so we win both ways.
I say keep an eye on Germany. They have been ahead of everyone, and now will work out these issues. At the same time, countries that need to add a lot of power (Africa, China), can already go to models that use high amounts of renewables - because they can write the rules to benefit the consumers and society - not the utilities.
Nuclear is not better than coal for the simple reason that we have not figured out what to do with the wastes. We are naive to think that we can deal with something that has a half life in the thousands of years. Look back 100, 200, 500, 1000 years. What kind of changes have happened?
I am all for a serious discussion on dealing with the wastes in a responsible way. We have to find a way to recycle them and/or destroy them. My own idea is that we work hard on space elevators. That would allow us to have an economic way of getting the wastes off the earth and we can send them into the biggest nuclear genarator around - the sun.
Meanwhile, it is pretty obvious that solar and wind are vastly under developed. Look at the price drop already, mainly driven by only a few countries. Onshore wind is already the lowest power source to build and operate. Furthermore, these industries create safe, well paying jobs that stay local.