Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Does Solar Have a Future in Utah?

"Think how shockingly stupid it is to build a 21st-century electric system based on 
120 million wooden poles."
- David Crane, CEO, NRG Energy

I sometimes wonder if there was no such thing as global warming if we'd actually be farther down the road to a cleaner, more efficient, and more distributed energy system.  Even if carbon dioxide weren't warming the planet, it still seems to be a wise move to pursue a smarter, more adaptive electrical grid and greater use of renewable energy. 

For the past several weeks, there has been quite a bit of media coverage of Rocky Mountain Power's proposal to charge net-metered customers (those who provide electricity back to the grid using, for example, solar panels) $4.25 per month (see this Salt Lake Tribune coverage).  

Source: Salt Lake Tribune
Homeowners with solar power are upset about this extra charge, whereas the view of Rocky Mountain power "wants to get in front of the issue now, before the system’s subsidy of them grows as more and more customers go solar."  That quote really caught my attention as it basically affirms that the migration to solar might eventually have enough legs to shake up the establishment.

For homeowners interested in generating their own power or even dropping of the grid, the future seems pretty exciting.  Homes, appliances, and lighting systems are becoming more efficient, solar panel costs are falling, companies like SolarCity have new approaches for stimulating home owner investment in solar, and small natural gas generators are now being developed that could provide a backup when solar isn't enough.  Utah has the 7th best solar potential in the country (see map below) and, although the solar potential in the winter is more limited, it seems like Utah is one place where we could see a major transition.    


There will long be a need for centralized power development and distribution, especially in high-density urban areas and for industrial applications, but perhaps we are on the cusp of a major transition in how we generate power for residential use.  What do you think?

8 comments:

  1. Hi! nice post. Well what can I say is that these is an interesting and very informative topic. Thanks for sharing.Solar Panels for sale

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  2. There is an "Earthship" community near Taos, NM, where the entire community is off the grid. The houses are built to be extremely energy efficient and also conservation oriented in other ways, such as recyling water, using passive thermal as well as photo-voltaics, and lots of creative uses of plants, such as in-door gardens that refresh the air while providing some veggies.

    The houses are made from thick blocks consisting mainly of recycled tires. They feature large banks of storage batteries and are designed with passive air circulation measures.

    If you are through the Taos area and are interested in 100% off the grid/off municipal water/off forest denuding construction, you should stop by and take tour of one of their public show models.

    It may be too much for me to undertake at my age, but it does create a little bit of confidence in future alternatives.

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  3. There is no one silver bullet that makes everyone happy, but each source (solar, wind, geothermal, etc) plays a role. Solar's other limitation is its peak output (supply) occurrs before, not during, the peak load (demand) hours. Thus, the question "how do we effectively and economically store x amount of kilowatts (or megawatts) of electricity at a time?" needs to be answered better than it is today in order to allow solar to take a bigger part of the pie.

    Love your blog and the content on it. Thank you for taking the time to share your knowledge with some of the blog stalkers out there.

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  4. To me, one of the biggest incentives for developing new technologies like this is to reduce our dependence on the current system with its vulnerability to being attacked, etc. Our degree of dependence on the electrical grid is pretty sobering.

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  5. I dont believe that RMP has much interest in supporting renewables at the home owner level. Consider the following:

    - Everyone enrolled in the Blue Slye program is already being taxed at a 26% rate for admin, marketing, and edu expenses.

    - A full 62% of the BS money over the last 3 years has gone to Community Project awards. Recipients has included a Contractor Association, lots of churches (how often are they fully occupied?), schools, an irrigation biz, and many many more.

    - Very little money goes to purchasing renewables for consumption on the grid.

    I suspect most home owners would rather fund a program to help pay for their own panels and reduce their own carbon and electrical bills vs the Animal Shelter, or other orgs or businesses? I'm not against community support or charitable giving but I dont believe that the BS program is understood well.

    I think RMP's main interest is to use the BS program as a marketing tool for their business.

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  7. Whenly every person with the internet engages in social media in some form or another. This engagement is almost always a daily thing. A great number of people wake up each day and check in on their favorite social media sites.I suspect most home owners would rather fund a program to help pay for their own panels and reduce their own carbon and electrical bills vs the Animal Shelter,solar panels.

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