There was a time at the turn of the 21st century when conventional power companies were scrambling. The demand for power had outstripped their ability to supply power. During the summer months, when everyone was running air conditioners in the hot afternoons, we were constantly warned of the possibility of power outages because the power grid could not handle the demand.
What the power grid needed was more power generation during the period when everyone was running air conditioners, which was usually from about noon until around 6 pm. Once the sun had set, the demand for power was less and the power grid was no longer stressed.
In 2003, I began researching the feasibility of having solar photovoltaic panels installed on my house. At that time, solar panels were still quite expensive. My system, which operates at a peak of 2.5 kilowatts, cost $27,000. By installing solar on my house and switching my rate schedule to time-of-use, I was rewarded for not using power during the time of high demand. My solar system helped the power grid because, during the time of peak demand, I was generating more power than I was using, so that excess power was going to the power grid.
Since the time that I first adopted solar power, solar panels have become a common sight on many residential rooftops. I can’t remember the last time there was a warning of possible power outages due to excessive power demand. At the time when power companies needed to increase their power generating capacity, but were unwilling to spend the money to do that, solar power solved their problem.
Fast forward to today. So many homes have adopted solar power generation that the power companies are complaining they are now losing money. The first indication I saw was an increase on my monthly bill. Since 2003, I have been paying my electric bill once a year. In July, my total electric bill for the year has historically been somewhere between $250 and $400. My solar system was designed to not produce more power than I would use because the power company doesn’t pay me for excess power that I don’t use. I had been receiving a monthly statement with a billing fee of about $4. About 6 months ago, I received a notice stating that the monthly billing fee was going to more than double. The rationale was that I wasn’t paying my fair share of power grid maintenance because I’m generating most of my own power. This billing increase was just the tip of the iceberg.
The latest notice from my power company is that they are redefining when peak time is. Instead of peak usage time being between noon and 6 pm, they have decided that peak usage time is now between 3 pm and 9 pm. The notice said that the original peak time was established 25 years ago and that, apparently, our national power usage has changed since then. Unless you are a current solar household, seeing the change in the peak usage time would not mean much. Basically, this change will kill residential solar power.
There is an inherent weakness with solar power generation. It only works when the sun is shining. At mid-day, my solar system is generating nearly 2.5 kilowatts of electricity. Since my house does not use that much power, on average, about half of that energy is going back out onto the power grid. I get credited at a higher rate during the peak time if I generate more electricity than I use. That credit nearly balances out the power I do use when the sun is not shining. All of the households with solar power, generating more than they use during the day, have helped the power companies with the demand on the power grid. Instead of the power companies building more nuclear, natural gas or coal-fired power plants, residences are providing that added generating capacity.
The problem now is that so many houses have adopted solar power, the power companies say they are not making enough money because they’re not selling as much power as they once were. How do they increase their income at the expense of solar? They change the definition of when peak usage occurs. By moving half of the peak demand period to a time when the sun is not shining, solar systems are not generating and the power companies will make bigger profits. The solar systems are already in place and are supplementing the power grid when it is needed, in the afternoon. However, everyone who had the green vision of generating clean power, will now be paying the same as those who don’t generate any power. You can also say goodbye to the future idea of every house having solar panels. Once the peak time is changed, it will no longer be cost effective for people to adopt solar power generation for their homes.
When I graduated from high school in the mid 1970’s, the thought of the 21st century brought visions of all sorts of technological advances we would be enjoying. Being technically minded, I looked forward to having our society be powered by clean energy, instead of using petroleum, coal, natural gas and nuclear. Unfortunately, in the second decade of the 21st century, we are still relying on the same fuel for power generation that we used 100 years ago. We will never truly be in the 21st century until we adopt clean, renewable sources of power and discard the old. I don’t see that happening in this century either because too many make too much money from the old sources. Most people in our society just don’t care, as long as their electricity is on and they can continue to buy gasoline for their automobiles.