Utilities can no longer ignore US public’s desire for solar
Against the background chatter over the fate of the solar investment tax credit in the US, one positive theme to emerge during Solar Power International 2015 was the extent to which public opinion is forcing utility companies to accept solar.
During a panel discussion organised by the Solar Electric Power Association, Tony Clifford, chief executive of Standard Solar highlighted how even in the past two to three years, there had been a dramatic change in utility attitudes towards solar.
“I remember about two and a half years ago when the Edison Electric Institute came out with their report that characterised distributed generation PV as a possible disruptor of the utility business plan,” he said. “That gave cover to those utilities that had already starting investing in solar while the ones that were actively against solar at that point really had to take a look at what they were doing and where PV was. And we’ve seen a tremendous sea change in the amount of interest from utilities of all stripes in PV.”
Of course this is by no means universal, with utility companies in a number of states still locking horns with the pro-solar lobby as they seek to find ways of holding back what some see as a potential threat to their business models.
But during the discussion there was a clear consensus that public demand for solar has now reached such a level that resisting it has become an almost futile exercise.
Clifford used the analogy of the smartphone-enabled taxi firm, Uber, to explain the solar-utility situation.
“If you consider what Uber has done to the taxi business in the last couple of years, a lot of taxi companies fought Uber, and they pretty much lost because the customers wanted Uber,” Clifford said.
“What’s happening in the utility space is a lot of customers have decided they want solar. So we’ve got to make this work. We’ve got to make it work for utilities, we’ve got to make it work for the solar industry.”
Clifford said in the past two and half years or so, his company had gone from working with no utilities to working with a number of them. “It’s changed dramatically,” he said.
But with the picture of utility acceptance countrywide so uneven, Clifford said there was a need for some clear rules of engagement to minimise future battles between utilities and the solar industry.