All around the US, homeowners are getting paid by their energy utility to have solar panels installed. That’s because power companies have an urgent need for roof space. They’re in a race against the clock to replace ever greater portions of the regular energy supply by power sourced from renewables.
The trend began with deals between energy companies and various large companies and local municipalities to install solar panels on large premises in return for a fee. One example is ProLogis, a large distributor in California, getting solar energy from systems installed and run by outside energy companies. The first such deal was when General Motors got solar panels installed on the roofs of its Spain production facilities (see picture).
Now the energy companies are beginning to tap the residential sector. The inherent logic of this development is obvious; once they’ve got local authority approval, energy companies can extend their ‘solar parks’ quickly and with relatively little hassle by fixing normal residents up with solar power. Home owners are interested because they get a fee for renting out their roofs to professionally managed solar panels. It’s hard to imagine a better way to reduce your footprint. Or is there?
Despite the compelling logic of the roof rental schemes, the cost/savings equation of the plans of Duke Energy in North Carolina aren’t immediately sky rocketing. Duke recently became the latest in a spate of energy companies to announce it would start renting the roofs of ordinary houses for solar power generation. The energy giant will rent 425 roofs across the state as early as next year.
You could argue that Duke, which aside from the Carolinas is also present in parts of the Midwest, found a vital niche because not everybody can afford decent solar panels and this offers people the chance to participate in the solar revolution. But critics doubt that residents are getting value. Megan Treacy at Ecogeek comments that the cost is pretty high for a fairly modest return in energy.
Duke will invest $50 million and expected generated energy will be enough to power 1,300 houses. Those numbers might not mean much at first glance, but the New York Times reckons it’s a lot of dosh given that this output represents less than one-tenth of one percent of Duke’s customer base in North Carolina. Also, the company is charging every residential customer in North Carolina eight cents a month for its investment in solar energy, whether they are consumers of green energy or not.
Duke had to tone down its plans earlier on because the North Carolina Utilities Commission, a consumer advocacy organization, blocked the company’s plans to extend its solar presence on the roofs of 800 houses.
Despite resistance it¬¥s very likely that Duke¬¥s project will be extended to thousands of sites throughout the state. That¬¥s because the company¬¥s plans fit in well with the overall strategy that the state of North Carolina adopted in recent years.The stage requires 12.5% of its energy mix to be made of renewables by 2021. Duke says it’s going to be playing a central role in this development. But the company¬¥s plans to raise the funding for its investment by charging the customers for it might not make everybody happy.
Another company that is aggressively moving center stage is SoCal Edison. It is leasing roof space of ProLogis as the first step towards becoming the largest solar energy provider in the US. Panels placed on the 607,000 square feet of roof of ProLogis’ Kaiser Distribution Park in the Californian town of Fontana produce 2.2 megawatt of energy, enough for up to 1,426 households. Edison has plans for 50 megawatts (MW) worth of solar panel installations each year, ultimately generating 250 MW of solar energy.
Energy companies are also at the heart of very ambitious plans that politicians in Wisconsin are rolling out, stepping up the generation of home grown solar power. Wisconsin plans to embark on a state-wide solar power project within one year, which involves collaborative forms. The state has commissioned a study into the feasibility of large scale solar power generation.
Wisconsin’s future solar plans will likely will be a hyperized version of what’s going on already. A key solar energy project, Second Nature, already pays customers if they generate power contributing to the electric grid. In the next two years, home-brewn energy output is targeted to rise to over 680 kilowatts.
Wisconsin is investing around $5.5 million in investment in solar energy and the state’s government has strong backing of the Sierra Club, which itself initiated the idea of setting up a state-wide solar plan. Jennifer Feyerherm, of the Sierra Club said ‚Äòwe need to, as fast as we possibly can, be moving away from the dirtiest source of power, and that is coal.’
New, independent, companies are also getting in on the game of offering people the option of renting out their roofs. Outside renewable energy providers will pay for, install, own and operate the solar systems. All the home owners do is agree to pay a rental fee for the solar electricity generated – based on their historical usage at the previous year’s rate. Cost reductions of around 20% are feasible.
A case in point is the Delaware renewable energy company Citizenre which offers customers living in states that have a net metering law the option of renting panels for one, five or 25 years, also paying a per-kilowatt flat fee in stead of the utility bill. Excess power generated is sold back to the local utility by the Citizenre.
The advantage of these types of schemes is that energy prices might go through the roof, but that this won’t affect the solar panel renters.