Transparent Utility Costs Key To Solar and Storage Growth

According to Lynn Jurich, one of the co-founders of SunRun and a speaker during Intersolar’s opening ceremony on Monday night, the notion that solar customers are increasing costs for other ratepayers is false. “It’s a total red herring,” she said.

Jurich said that the industry needs to fight hard for transparency because right now much of the important decision-making data is held within the utilities. For example, she said that it might be much more cost effective in some cases to install distributed energy resources (DERs) instead of centralized generation and transmission upgrades, but because the utility holds so much cost information close to its chest it is hard for the industry to conclusively prove that.

She said that regulators have a very difficult job right now trying to figure out how DERs fit into this landscape. “It’s the first time in history where it might not make sense to have a monopoly,” said Jurich.

What can’t be stopped, said Jurich, is consumer empowerment.  As consumers demand more control over their own energy use and costs and have access to increasingly better technology that enables them to do just that, utilities will need to reevaluate where they fit into the picture.

Jurich laid out two potential futures, which were put forth in a Rocky Mountain Institute report recently. There is one future in which utilities and clean energy industries work together to develop an integrated grid. An integrated grid would include technology, DER, smart solar and solar plus storage. These devices together would talk to the grid so that energy would be managed in the most efficient way possible.

The darker future happens if utilities decide not to work with the clean energy industry. In that scenario as energy prices rise and solar plus storage prices drop (Jurich pointed out that lithium-ion battery costs had dropped 70 percent in just 18 months), consumers will simply install those technologies and detach from the grid. Mass amounts of grid defection would ultimately result in two parallel electricity systems, each with its own set of stranded assets, said Jurich.

Overall however, the picture is positive, said Jurich in closing. She pointed to a recent utility RFP in New York that sought “non-wire alternatives” in its proposals.

Renewable Energy World will be exploring all of those “smart technologies” that talk to the grid this week at Intersolar. Stay tuned for more updates.

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Jennifer Runyon has been studying and reporting about the world's transition to clean energy since 2007. As editor of the world's largest renewable energy publication, Renewable Energy World, she observed, interviewed experts about, and reported on major clean energy milestones including Germany's explosive growth of solar PV, the formation and development of the U.S. onshore wind industry, the U.K. offshore wind boom, China's solar manufacturing dominance, the rise of energy storage, the changing landscape for utilities and grid operators and much, much, more. Today, in addition to managing content on POWERGRID International, she also serves as the conference advisory committee chair for DISTRIBUTECH, a globally recognized conference for the transmission and distribution industry. You can reach her at Jennifer.Runyon@ClarionEvents.com

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