Utilities lost a little more ground in their ongoing battle with the solar industry last week when the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that solar installers are allowed to sell power through power purchase agreements.
When solar advocates talk about “monopoly utilities,” they’re not being disparaging. Utility companies in most states are granted monopolies and are allowed to protect their rein over a region. No other utility companies can operate in their territories. State regulators are in place to protect the public and keep the monopoly from exploiting its customers.
Alliant Energy, whose parent company is Interstate Power and Light Company, appealed to Iowa regulators when solar installer Eagle Point put solar panels atop a Dubuque municipal building and signed a power purchase agreement with the city.
A power purchase agreement allows home and business owners along with nonprofit and government groups to install solar panels with no upfront cost, much like the solar leasing model employed by popular SolarCity. Instead of leasing the panels, the home and business owners agree to purchase the power they produce from the installer.
Battery storage paired with residential rooftop solar arrays are not a thing of the distant future. It’s happening now and companies like SunPower and SolarCity are already selling package systems.
SolarCity partnered with Tesla to manufacture a lithium-ion battery storage system. In a pilot program, SolarCity is offering the battery setup to California customers for $1,500 down and $15 a month on a 10-year lease agreement.
As most major US utility companies, in their concern over self-preservation, try in vane to squash net metering programs and slow the growth of the solar industry, NRG is innovating and evolving.
NRG is not a cute little clean energy startup out to save the world. It’s the largest power generator in the country. In addition to directly serving electricity customers coast to coast, NRG is a major electricity wholesaler, providing power to other utility companies for a price.
The solar leasing model, which is widely believed to have made rooftop solar installations more mainstream and which is frequently credited for the meteoric rise in residential solar installations, could be losing market share.
GTM Research released a report earlier this week announcing that the leasing model is peaking this year.
Currently, about 68 percent of Americans who install rooftop solar panels on their homes or businesses lease them or sign a power purchase agreement with a third-party owner.
Sunrun, a solar leasing company, has issued numerous reports over the years indicating that the model, which doesn’t require much and sometimes any money at all upfront, has opened solar up to the middle class. The middle class, as a result of third-party-owned solar, now dominates the demographics of households that install solar systems.