Power companies may have found a new way to crack into the booming solar business
There’s a tense dynamic accompanying the rapid growth of solar in the United States—in which traditional utility companies, nervous about the spread of rooftop solar panels, are seeking ways to limit the revenues made by solar customers who earn credit for the extra electricity they provide to the grid.
This battle over so-called “net metering” has been often depicted as a zero sum conflict between an upstart and an incumbent — but new research out of the University of Texas at Austin suggests there could be a kind of “middle ground” in the conflict between some utilities and solar installers.
The potential “win-win,” as the researchers put it, involves so-called community solar — solar energy projects or panels that are in effect shared by a group of people, such as the inhabitants of an apartment building, rather than sitting on a single residential rooftop. The study, recently published in Energy Research & Social Science and led by Erik Funkhouser of the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin and three university colleagues, found that at least some utility companies seem to like community solar programs, are already offering them, and plan to expand them.