yeloha

Yeloha: It’s Like Airbnb but for Solar Power

yelohaIsraeli entrepreneur Amit Rosner lives in Tel Aviv and is launching a business in Boston. He spends a lot of time on airplanes. “And whenever I look out of the window before we land, it drives me nuts to see roofs baking in the sun,” Rosner says. “I feel this is absurd–that so much energy falls on the roofs, and it just bakes the roofs without doing anything helpful.”

He’s right; it’s crazy. Consider: The price of photovoltaic cells is plummeting; an overwhelming majority of Americans (79 percent, according to a recent Gallup poll) want the U.S. to develop more solar power; and solar power is in fact growing, accounting for 36 percent of all new electric capacity through the first nine months of 2014, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. And yet, solar power remains all but invisible on the big stage of U.S. electricity generation.

 

community solar

Community Solar: Key Considerations in Designing a Successful Program

community solarThe first community solar programs were started nearly a decade ago, and, as the name suggests, the early efforts were led by communities — neighbors, small towns, places of worship — in each case, a group of people dedicated to building solar systems and sharing the benefits of the electrical output.

From these humble beginnings, community solar programs have grown and evolved to include many different design structures — in fact, some programs now use the moniker “shared renewables” to reflect the fact that the concept needn’t be limited to solar.  In this three-part series of articles, we’ll focus on what has become the most typical program design: community solar programs launched by utilities in service of their customers.

Frequent readers of Greentech Media know that utility-led community solar programs are growing rapidly in popularity. According to the Solar Electric Power Association, there are now more than 50 community solar programs planned or operating.  However, designing and launching a community solar program can be complex. Indeed, there are a number of questions that every utility faces as it works through the design of a program.

 

community solar

New Concept in Solar Energy Poised to Catch on Across US

community solar

A new concept in renewable energy is catching fire across the country, allowing customers who might find solar panels too expensive or impractical to buy green energy anyway.

Community solar gardens first took off in Colorado a few years ago, and the model — also known as community or shared solar — has spread to Minnesota, California, Massachusetts and several other states. Capacity is expected to grow sharply this year, and interest is up among both residential customers who just like the idea and large companies that want to cut their carbon footprints.
The gardens feed electricity to the local power grid. Customers subscribe to that power and get credit on their utility bills, with contracts that typically lock in for 25 years and shelter against rate increases. Some developers say customer bills will drop below regular retail rates within a few years; others say the savings begin immediately.

community solar

Sometimes it Takes a Community to Go Solar

community solarYou don’t have a south-facing roof. You have too many trees in your yard. You may not be committed to staying in your house for the next ten to fifteen years. Or maybe you rent, or don’t have the upfront money to install.

These may be some of the reasons why you can’t go solar. You are not alone.

In fact, only 22 to 27 percent of residential rooftops are suitable for installing a solar PV system, due to structural, shading, or ownership issues, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. These effects are even more prominent in densely-populated, urban areas, like Chicago, where viable project siting is limited and renters account for more than half (55 percent) of housing.

But in a new utility world of flowing electricity data and layered intelligence, we shouldn’t limit participation in the rapidly growing solar market to those inconvenienced by circumstance. We need to shift our thinking of distributed solar from the individual to the community.

Virtues of virtual net metering

That’s why Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and Citizens Utility Board (CUB) filed Illinois’ first-ever community solar plan with the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) last week. The plan would enable customers of the largest utility in the state, ComED, to sign-up as “subscribers” to larger solar arrays located in the neighborhood. The subscribers would then get a credit on their electricity bill for the energy produced from these community solar projects through a process called virtual net metering.

Under virtual net metering, residents would get a “kilowatt-hour for kilowatt-hour (Kwh)” credit on their electricity bill for their share of the electricity produced by the community solar project. For example, a 250 kW community solar project may generate 37,500 kWh of electricity per month. If you, as a subscriber, had a one-percent share of that community solar project, you would see 375 kWh of electricity use deducted from your electricity bill.

While some find it hard to rationalize a direct roll-back of electric meters if the solar array is not connected to an actual home, it does makes sense. If a community solar project generates more electricity than is needed for subscribers’ homes, the electricity goes back to the power grid. The electrons don’t travel to Pennsylvania and back. They go to your neighbor, or to the businesses down the street. As a distributed, self-generating asset, community solar actually supports the larger power grid and brings overall system costs down.

Other perks

Community solar and virtual net metering provide a number of additional benefits that have made them popular across many states:

  • Optimized project siting: Unlike rooftop solar, subscribers of community solar have more flexibility when considering where to locate their project. Possible sites could include brownfield and greenfield sites, local schools and community centers, or even the nearby big box
  • As the size goes up, costs come down…significantly: A study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, for instance, calculated that the installed cost of solar drops over 30 percent when moving from a 2 kilowatt system (good for a home) to a 10 kilowatt system (good for a small business), and drops almost 40 percent when moving to a 1 MW system (best for a community).
  • Ease of relocation: If residents move to a new home in the community, they can bring their subscription with them.
  • Innovative project financing: Just like crowd-funding has revolutionized the start-up community, crowd-funding for solar projects can expand opportunities for participation to those who would not be able to participate otherwise.

The momentum for community solar is building, and a number of states have already begun this process in the past few years. Minnesota, for instance, recently saw applications for 400 megawatts of community solar projects – enough to power over 65,000 homes. In Illinois, Chicago and the larger Cook County area recently received an award from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Sunshot Initiative to explore community solar business models and to identify potential project sites. Further, the recently-formed Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition, of which EDF is a part, included a requirement and a funding mechanism for community solar projects in its priorities, which have made it into legislation introduced last week.

If we truly want to open up solar energy to the masses, embracing the community solar wave is key. Sometimes it really does take a community to go solar.

Andrew Barbeau is a President of The Accelerate Group, and works with Environmental Defense Fund to accelerate clean energy policy in Illinois.

 

community solar

How the Solar Industry is Coming Together to Expand Community Solar

community solarCommunity solar farms (made up of PV panels purchased by offsite owners) have been saviors for renters and apartment dwellers without control of their own rooftops. But with less than a dozen U.S. states with enabling legislation on the books — and a smattering of utilities and third parties that have pushed through projects — they’re far from widespread.

Now a new project led by the Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA) is trying to change that dynamic by laying the foundation for more Americans to get a piece of the PV pie.

Over the next three years, the Washington, D.C.-based non-profit organization will gather solar stakeholders to hone in on what components makes a community solar project successful, craft new models based on this process, gauge consumers’ reception to these models and set up pilot projects to test them in the real world.

The work is being funded by a $700,000 grant from the Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative.

“There are multiple pieces of the project,” said Becky Campbell, SEPA senior manager of research. “The first is to work with a pretty large cross-organizational working group to narrow in on some community solar models that we believe will work across multiple different circumstances — different regulatory environments, policy environments, utility structures and political environments.”

When the group convenes for the first time next month, it could investigate the set of circumstances most befitting for various kinds of community solar farm administrators (such as a utility, grassroots group or another third party), or what participants get in exchange for their participation (e.g., the ability to purchase panels or only buy electricity).

The working group — which will be composed of solar industry companies, utilities, financing groups and advocacy organizations (confirmed members to date include FirstSolar, Clean Power Finance, Clean Energy Collective, Sunshare, CPS Energy, Pedernales Electric Cooperative, Rocky Mountain Institute and the Regulatory Assistance Project) — will come up with about five to eight program models that are viable under a range of circumstances, according to Campbell. SEPA will release a report detailing these models in the third quarter of this year.

Then, Knoxville, Tenn.-based environmental market research firm Shelton Groupwill measure public reaction to the models identified by the workgroup.

It’s this consumer research component that makes the project unique compared to previous efforts by the Interstate Renewable Energy Solar Commission to establish model rules and recommendations for what makes community solar work, according to Campbell.

“A lot of work has gone into what works from an administrative perspective, but not a lot of effort as to whether or not if something works from a consumer perspective,” she said. “We think by introducing that piece to the project, we’re giving some level of confidence that if you adopt one of these models, not only will the administrative hurdles be minimized, but you have a certain level of assurance that you’re adopting a model that has been shown to resonate with the consumers you’re trying to reach.”

Campbell expects that these two phases will be completed halfway into the three-year grant — with the remaining time devoted to getting the solar farms off the ground. SEPA will work with approximately eight program administrators to do this, she added.

But there’s one obvious question: Given the enormous amounts of coordination and approval required with multiple jurisdictions to set up community solar, how can SEPA and its partners pivot so quickly?

“Our hope is that [in] standardizing these models, we streamline the timeline to get it off the ground,” Campbell said. “Obviously if a utility is going to adopt this model that doesn’t alleviate us from going through the regulatory approval process. Timelines for approvals tend to differ … we hope that standardizing models will streamline the process a bit.”

shared solar

Bringing Shared Solar to Scale

shared solarWhat happens when you really want solar but the obstacles seem too great? You may not have a suitable space. Or there may be a tree blocking your roof. Or you live in a condominium where you don’t have your own roof.

This is where promising approaches for increasing customer access, such as shared solar, come in. They create opportunities for customers to get the benefit of distributed solar without putting it on their own roof. With shared solar projects (also referred to as “community solar”) customers either own or rent a portion of a larger project that is off site and then receive a credit for the generation on their electricity bill. Often, the customer sees a cost premium in the near term and then some economic benefit for the subscription, usually through rates that stay steady rather than increase over time.

BRINGING SHARED SOLAR TO SCALE

Right now though, shared solar projects and other shared renewables programs have not been able to scale. While the largest program in the country today is 20 MW, only a handful are greater than 1 MW. The majority of these projects are between 30 and 100 kW. So that means most programs have between ~40 customers on the low end and ~600 customers on the high end.

Right now though, shared solar projects and other shared renewables programs have not been able to scale. While the largest program in the country today is 20 MW, only a handful are greater than 1 MW. The majority of these projects are between 30 and 100 kW. So that means most programs have between ~40 customers on the low end and ~600 customers on the high end.

So what is required for these types of programs to scale? As we discussed in Bridges to New Solar Business Models, for solar PV broadly to continue to scale, shared solar specifically has to become more valuable for utilities, solar companies, and customers. This means that either the benefits solar PV projects provide have to increase or the costs of the projects have to decrease. Unlocking this value will require increased collaboration between solar companies and utilities, including for shared solar programs.

Solar companies already play an important role in these programs. They typically procure project financing, install the project, and arrange the power purchase agreements with the utility. Then, over the lifetime of the project, they service the PV project, making sure it operates properly and is maintained. When it comes to enrolling customers, they often take the lead on the marketing aspects, providing customers with brochures and pamphlets and online bill calculators to estimate potential savings.

Utilities have also provided important support for these projects. They often manage the program, facilitate the tie between customers and the PV projects, handle the customer billing, and enable the interconnection of these projects onto the grid.

SOLAR COMPANY AND UTILITY COLLABORATION

But increased collaboration between the solar companies and utilities could help unlock additional value that can benefit all customers. Today, utilities have access to all of the customers in their territories, creating opportunities to educate their customers on the possible options and use their brand to decrease some customers’ concerns about new service providers. They can help identify potential sites, as they’re familiar with the land and customers in their territory. They can also provide greater market certainty to solar companies by committing to buy solar for a period of time and creating a sufficient runway to reach volumes where solar companies can start to drive down the total costs of installations.

Combining solar companies’ strengths with utilities could create an environment that can yield additional value. Possible elements of a project better positioned to scale could include:

  • Collaboration to identify sites: Many customers want to be able to see and show the solar PV projects they buy power from. However, current community solar efforts usually focus on developing projects on sites that will be interconnected quickly and have low lease terms. Projects don’t have to be located at one site though, and could be more valuable if they’re located near customers and installed at certain locations. Utilities and solar companies could work together to identify a portfolio of sites, including remote fields, parks and parking lots, and nearby customer rooftops, and then provide customers with options and allow them to choose to buy from the sites they find most desirable.
  • Clear and transparent procurement processes: Today, solar projects are typically procured through a one-time request for proposals (RFP). However, solar companies could decrease their costs if they have higher volume certainty over time. They could do this by revising the RFP process, seeking a multi-year contract (e.g., three to five years) for distributed PV installations. As part of this deal, the solar company would need to meet certain performance benchmarks over time.
  • Joint marketing: Surveys show that many customers are still unaware of the opportunities in investing in solar PV. In fact, many of these shared solar programs have enrolled subscribers through word-of-mouth alone. The utility can help increase subscribers quickly, using its access to customers to increase awareness through bill inserts and online engagement on the utility webpage. Also, the utilities and solar companies can co-brand and co-message the program, emphasizing the simplicity and convenience— customers won’t need house visits and crews to install equipment on the customers’ premises, will not be involved with any on-site operations and maintenance, and could change locations without the hassle of relocating any physical equipment. Shared solar could also create an opportunity to market other utility programs. For instance, a customer who is interested in community solar could also be someone interested in efficiency or electric vehicles, and it makes sense to either offer bundles of measures together or target customers for new technology offerings as they become available.
  • Community engagement: Due to the nature of shared projects located near customers, there’s a reason these programs have been called “community solar.” Yet few programs have fully embraced a community-oriented approach to encourage high levels of customer participation. In addition to traditional utility access channels, the program can meet customers where they are, engaging possible participants at community centers, including places of worship, to generate enthusiasm. Further, as some solar companies have started to do with referral programs, the utility and solar companies can work together to develop a referral program that creates community champions and rewards customers for providing program referrals.

Examples of existing shared solar programs taking some of these concepts and putting them into practice include:

  • Arizona Salt River Project customers sign up for kW blocks and buy the output at a fixed rate, which represents a near-term premium of ~10 percent but also provides participants with bill savings if rates increase. More than 1,000 residential customers and 100 schools have participated in the program.
  • Duke Energy’s Green Source Rider program in North Carolina enables nonresidential customers to displace new load with renewable energy. Duke handles customer applications and then arranges power purchase agreements with renewable energy suppliers. Participants buy the generation at the power purchase agreement rate and receive a credit based on avoided energy and capacity rates.
  • A rural cooperative in Minnesota, Steel-Waseca Cooperative Electric, has a new program that offers a steep discount for customers on their first panel if they agree to install a free electric water heater that responds to utility price signals.

TURNING CONCEPTS INTO ACTION

While it will take some initiative from utilities, solar companies, clean energy advocates, and customers to get these types of programs going, none of these concepts will require regulatory overhaul to get there. Instead, turning these concepts into action will start with increased engagement between solar companies and utilities, like we’re seeing in efforts from around the country, such as the More than Smart Initiative in California or the e21 initiative in Minnesota. These initiatives are convening a diverse group of stakeholders to create a shared vision for what programs and policies should look like. They encourage collaborative thinking to identify approaches for meeting customer needs, and strategies to ensure that a grid with increasing amounts of distributed energy resources stays affordable and reliable.

There may not be consensus on some aspects of the shared solar program, such as the pricing mechanism, and final decisions will likely require negotiation in front of the public utility commission or the regulatory body that advises on utility matters. In theses cases, it’s critical that the costs and benefits are transparent, and that all actors are sufficiently motivated to create value. This could be assured by providing incentive mechanisms for the utility and the solar companies, and by establishing a pricing mechanism that fairly credits program participants for solar benefits while ensuring fixed cost recovery and minimizing cross-subsidies.

Increasing access to solar for customers will be important for enabling distributed solar to scale in a way that can be fair and equitable. While the initial efforts in this area have been promising, there are certainly ways that utilities and solar companies can incorporate new approaches that will help further reduce project costs and also make the benefits easier to access. With these increases in value, we can envision a thriving and sustainable market for distributed solar PV.

Download RMI’s report Bridges to New Solar Business Models: Opportunities to Increase and Capture the Value of Distributed Solar Photovoltaics

Further blog posts will cover two other ways of increasing solar’s value that are discussed in RMI’s report Bridges to New Solar Business Models—utilizing distributed solar as a grid resource and incorporating distributed solar in technology bundles.

See other blogs in this series:

Collaboration is Key: How innovative solar business models can benefit all

xcel solar

Be Xcel-lent To Each Other: PUCs Making Utilities Make Nice With Solar

xcel solarIn 2014, the role of utilities in the future of the solar industry became an even hotter topic of discussion, and 2015 promises much more of the same. Growth in solar generation across the country is giving utilities the occasion to do some New Year’s soul-searching over whether this new paradigm of power generation will help or hurt their business in the long term. Meanwhile, the solar industry will spend at least as much time wondering if the utilities are a necessary ally or a mortal threat. And state Public Utility Commissions (PUCs) – the regulators responsible for setting the rules of engagement between them – will be responsible for channeling this tension to serve the public (and hopefully, planetary) interest.

This tension was illustrated in December by two seemingly opposite pieces of news, in two different states, concerning the efforts of one very big utility to work out its solar destiny. Xcel Energy, which has 3.5 million electricity customers across eight mostly mid-western states, has long been the leading generator of wind power among U.S. utilities, and is trying to catch up on the solar side. As part of this effort, Xcel has announced the opening of a new round of its successful Solar Rewards Community program in Minnesota, which allows individuals that lack the ability to install solar panels on their roof to instead “subscribe” to energy produced by a shared, off-site solar array built by an independent third-party developer.

Mid Valley Solar Array

Colorado Utility Leads the Way for Community Solar

Mid Valley Solar ArrayAn electric cooperative on Colorado’s Western Slope was the first utility in the U.S. to give community-owned solar a chance in 2010. Four years and 2.6 megawatts (MW) later, it was a decision that helped revolutionize the way individuals and businesses go solar nationwide.

A member-owned cooperative, Holy Cross Energy (HCE) provides electricity to more than 55,000 ratepayers throughout Eagle, Pitkin and Garfield counties. Paul Spencer, an electrical engineer and Basalt native, was helping design a net-zero neighborhood in the Roaring Fork Valley, but the shade cast by old cottonwood trees made rooftop solar impractical for the 89 homes. He proposed that HCE use a centralized solar array, in which individuals would buy panels and receive credits on their utility bill for the clean energy produced. “Holy Cross said if we could figure it out, they’d support us,” Spencer recalled. He founded Clean Energy Collective (CEC), and community-owned solar was born.

 

 

solar gardens

NYS Public Service Commission Action Will Help Tenants, Low-Income Customers and Others Lacking Rooftop Access Go Solar

solar gardens
Community solar projects like this one in Boulder County, Colorado can help tenants, low-income people, and others without rooftop rights go solar.

For New Yorkers like me, who’ve wanted to put solar panels on their roofs but found it wasn’t feasible, there’s some excellent news, thanks to an effort NRDC and others helped initiate at the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC). Soon, we’ll be able to join the growing number of Americans who can participate in offsite solar projects, a/k/a community solar, solar gardens or shared solar. (The PSC’s announcement last week included five regulatory reforms that are part of Governor Cuomo’s “Reforming the Energy Vision” plan to improve New York’s energy system.)

Offsite solar (and other small-scale renewables) projects will bring to New Yorkers all the great benefits that clean energy has to offer—pollution-free power; new, good-paying jobs; significant cost-savings on electricity. These projects will be supported by residential and business customers alike and built sometimes on other people’s roofs, on brownfields, farmers’ fields, in industrial areas and, importantly, can serve as an asset to the electric grid, especially in the seriously overtaxed New York City area.

 

xcel energy

Xcel hopes new ‘gardens’ will grow MN solar power

xcel energyThe new community solar program Xcel Energy will launch on Friday could mean a big boost in solar electricity for the utility.

Xcel has about 14 megawatts in its system right now. The Solar Rewards Community could add 100 megawatts in 2015, or about enough to serve 25,000 homes, said Xcel Senior Vice President Laura McCarten.

“This really all depends on the interest of consumers who want to participate in this type of program, what developers put together and offer to consumers and how that market develops,” she said. “It’s something that none of us really know for sure but we will find out as we go forward. We do expect a high level of interest and activity.”

Here’s how it works: Rather than installing solar panels on their rooftops, utility customers — and even apartment dwellers — can subscribe to a community solar garden. The customer chooses how much solar power to buy or lease, and whatever the panel produces will be credited on the customer’s Xcel electricity bill.

 

First Solar teams with Clean Energy Collective to expand community solar

520-First-Solar-CECFirst Solar, Inc. and Clean Energy Collective (CEC) have announced a partnership to develop community solar offerings to residential customers and businesses — including those who rent, live in multi-tenant buildings, or whose rooftops are not suited for solar panels.

According to First Solar, they will look for opportunities to provide affordable community solar. The deal includes a strategic investment by First Solar in CEC, as well as First Solar CEO Jim Hughes and Vice President of Strategic Marketing Marc van Gerven joining the CEC board. Further terms of the deal were not disclosed.

 

abundance enewable energy

Abundance launches “new avenue” for finance for renewable energy developers

abundance enewable energy

Abundance, the award-winning crowdfunding platform that allows direct investmentin UK renewable energy, today announced it was launching the UK’s first regulated ‘shared ownership’ service.

“20 communities” 
Abundance said it aimed to work with “at least 20 communities across the UK next year” to help grow the UK’s renewable energy capacity and ethical investment market. Projects financed through the new ‘shared ownership’ scheme are expected to deliver investment returns of between seven and 10 per cent, the company said. The shared ownership service is being launched on the back of the Government’s UK’s Community Energy Strategy, which aims to see communities sharing in the ownership of their local renewable energy projects such as wind and solar developments from 2015. It comes at a time when onshore wind projects are finding it increasingly difficult to get planning permission in England and it is less attractive to invest in large-scale solar projects due to withdrawal of Government subsidies.

Community Program SolarPerks Opens Access to All NSTAR and Grid Ratepayers

520-SolarPerks

BOSTON, MASS. – (October 23, 2014) Massachusetts’ favorable renewable energy landscape has set the stage for broad interest in individual solar energy production. Yet, historical solar programs have been available only to residents and businesses that own suitable rooftop space and feature long-term leasing arrangements. Clean Energy Collective (CEC), the nation’s leading community solar developer, announced today the launch of SolarPerks™, the first-of-its-kind community solar program that affords every ratepayer in Massachusetts’ NSTAR and National Grid territories the opportunity to participate in a shared utility-scale solar PV array for $0 down and guaranteed monthly savings for 20 years. This makes SolarPerks™ the most broadly accessible and cost effective solar solution available in Massachusetts.

A community-based renewable solution, SolarPerks™ is designed specifically for Massachusetts electricity customers seeking clean energy solutions and the environmental benefits they produce while also immediately reducing their energy costs. SolarPerks™ is available to all NSTAR and National Grid utility customers—including residential, commercial and government entities, renters, owners, multi-unit building tenants, and even those with shaded or historical properties. There is no installation, permitting, personal financing, or maintenance required.

“The simplicity of this program will be attractive for anyone considering solar, especially in a market with high energy costs,” said CEC founder and CEO Paul Spencer. “This is the most accessible and affordable solar program offered in Massachusetts.”

How SolarPerks™ Works

Clean Energy Collective builds and operates responsibly sited community solar projects open to all residential and commercial ratepayers in a participating utility territory. The clean energy generated is delivered to the utility grid. SolarPerks™ members receive credit on their electric bills for their subscribed energy production, and then pay CEC 95% of this credit retaining a 5% savings for themselves. Unlike other solar models with escalating lease payments and stringent contracts, the 5% savings is guaranteed for the life of the agreement, regardless of changing retail electric rates.

CEC has already completed and sold out two arrays in Massachusetts and, in support of the projected demand for SolarPerks™, is developing eight additional projects throughout the NSTAR and National Grid territories spanning 12 MW in total.

A limited amount of capacity is currently available to NSTAR and NGrid customers, with reservations available in the new SolarPerks program on a first-come, first-served basis. Customers can sign up or get more information at www.masscommunitysolar.com or by calling CEC at (844) 232-7253.

About Clean Energy Collective

Clean Energy Collective (CEC) is the nation’s leading developer of community solar solutions. CEC pioneered the model of delivering clean power-generation through large-scale solar PV facilities accessible to all utility customers.  Since establishing the first community-owned solar garden in the country in 2010 near El Jebel, Colorado, CEC has built or has under development more than 40 community solar projects with 18 utility partners across 8 states, representing 36 MW of community solar capacity. www.easycleanenergy.com

Community Solar Allows Utilities to Adapt, Thrive as Energy Landscape Evolves

utilities-and-community-520Adaptability is the key to survival—both in nature as Charles Darwin observed, and in the business sector. As the solar industry continues to flourish, utility companies across the U.S. are beginning to witness how the traditional electric grid is transforming.

As tens of thousands of residents have solar photovoltaic (PV) panels installed on their rooftops and begin generating their own power, they need less electricity from the utility grid. The issue of net-metering, selling the excess solar energy back to the utility, has sparked a heated debate since utility companies must still incur the costs of maintaining the grid for all users—including the solar homes that are interconnected.

While companies spend their time battling for and against net-metering and state regulators strive to reach a compromise, other disruptive forces are quickly evolving. From battery storage and other renewable technologies to shifting consumer-usage trends and pressure to upgrade the grid, utilities face increasing threats to their centralized service model.