Utility companies, that’s who. David Roberts over at Grist has just posted a fantastic series stemming from a report by the Edison Electronic Institute’s that outlines how the success of small-scale renewables could make utility companies, as we know them, obsolete. Roberts doesn’t skimp on details about how utilities operate or why the Edison Institute’s theory is so astoundingly precise, but its actually quite easy to sum-up: every person generating his or her own electricity means one less person buying energy from the utility, meaning price of power goes up for the rest, making the investment required to generate your own look that much more reasonable.
These days, it’s looking more and more like solar energy is going to bring power to the people. The price of solar energy has recently reached parity in both India and Italy. In the US, the price of solar has dropped in the past five years from $5 per watt to $.50 per watt.
While this might seem like good news to some, its really not. Utilities are powerful entities, and if they feel threatened by new technologies they will fight hard to make their adoption more difficult for people. The massive shift taken by Hawaiians towards solar is case in point. Utilities have introduced some major barriers to make cheap-solar look complicated and expensive. The “15 percent rule” forces many independent power producers into taking time-consuming and expensive interconnection studies, and “curtailment” allows utilities to turn off a solar array in the name of grid stability.
Roberts advocates that we find a future for utilities in a world where people are making their own power, but doesn’t offer any easy solutions. He does, however, offer up some interesting resources.