New Solar Programs from SDG&E in California

Big news from SDG&E!! First of all, the CPUC has rejected SDG&E’s request to charge its solar customers more for T&D (as a way to make the lost revenue from net metering). I’m not quite sure how I feel about that, as it’s true solar customers are using T&D and not paying for it. On the other hand, they are also perhaps helping SDG&E to avoid making additional grid investments in capacity-strained areas. In any case, I think it’s part of the growing pains of solar – the costs and benefits of net metering are by nature highly variable and not transparent, and while this policy is fine for an early market, it doesn’t seem ideal for a large, mainstream PV market.

Next up, SDG&E proposed two very interesting solar pilot programs! The first, Share the Sun, would enable consumers to purchase a portion of the solar power produced from a plant located anywhere in SDG&E’s service territory. They would then receive a credit for that power, just as if they had a net metered system on their own roof (this is more or less “virtual net metering“). This is especially great because currently only 30% of SDG&E customers can feasibly install onsite rooftop solar. With this program, everyone is able to invest – and that is very important for growing the market, increasing awareness of solar, and empowering the public to have a stake in its energy future.

The second program, SunRate, would allow customers to sign up to cover 50-100% of their energy use from local solar projects already supplying power to SDG&E. Their electricity rate would then be based on the actual costs of these solar plants. With a minimum time commitment of one year, this is potentially a great opportunity for customers, as it provides them with price certainty even if SDG&E’s overall rates go up.

Experience in Germany, the world’s leading solar market, has shown that empowering the public to invest in & benefit from solar is essential to gaining public acceptance & growing the market. Hopefully these two programs will go a long way towards creating the same conditions in California!

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Joanna Gubman is a 2011-2012 recipient of the German Chancellor Fellowship for Prospective Leaders. She is spending her fellowship year at the German Solar Industry Association, BSW-Solar , exploring incentive and business model alternatives as the German market achieves grid parity. Previously, Gubman was a Managing Consultant in the Energy Efficiency group at Navigant Consulting. There she analyzed technologies and policies to improve energy efficiency, including analysis and implications of the CPUC Long Term Energy Efficiency Strategic Plan (net zero energy new buildings and widespread adoption of whole-house retrofits); identification & promotion of emerging technologies for utility energy efficiency incentive programs; and development of corporate sustainability initiatives. She also served as project manager for the California Sustainability Alliance. Gubman received her B.S. and M.S. degrees in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University. You can find her online on LinkedIn , Twitter ( @JoannaGubman ), and xing , and via email at cleantech@alumni.stanford.edu . The views she expresses here and elsewhere are her own, and do not reflect those of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation or the German Solar Industry Association (BSW-Solar).

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