By: Kyle Pennell, content manager at Powerscout
According to the Department of Energy, in the United States, solar energy is “more affordable, accessible and prevalent than ever before.” According to the Department, since 2008, U.S. installations have increased seventeen-fold from 1.2 GW to nearly 30. This is enough energy to power approximately 5.7 million American homes. SEIA also reports that the average cost of solar PV panels has dropped over 60% and the cost of an entire solar electric system is about half of what it was in 2010.
Solar friendly policies have contributed to the industry’s growth. Here are some of the latest happenings with solar energy both in the United States and worldwide.
For the past year and a half, Tesla (which acquired SolarCity) and Sunrun have stopped seeking new customers in the state. This is because, according to Greentech Media, Nevada’s PUC chose to phase out homeowners’ incentives who install rooftop solar panels. Another key issue was with net metering, which allows homeowners with solar panels to sell excess electricity to their utility company at retail rates instead of wholesale prices. This, in turn, helps that homeowner to save even more money on their energy bill. Utility companies didn’t like having to pay the retail rate and also argued that the solar customers didn’t have to pay to maintain the grid, so net metering was phased out in December 2015. This led to a freeze on new rooftop solar installations in the state that NPR reports led to a 32% percent decline in solar jobs in 2016 alone.
However, with Assembly Bill 405, signed by Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval in June 2017, a compromise occurred. The new bill reinstated net metering, which resumed sales immediately and brought jobs back to the state as well as millions of dollars in economic benefit. The law allows new solar customers to be reimbursed for excess energy at 95% of the retail rate. This rate will decline as more solar systems are installed in Nevada. Also, the law created a protection for homeowners, offering them a guaranteed net metering rate for 20 years.
In 2016 in San Francisco, the city passed an ordinance requiring new building to have solar panels installed on their roofs. This is the first American city to require this, according to Scott Weiner, the city supervisor who introduced the bill. According to National Public Radio, the law itself builds on an existing law that requires new building to set aside 15% of the roof as solar ready. This law applies to residential and commercial buildings 10 stories or shorter. Now instead of just preparing the roofs for solar panels, they must install some form of solar energy too. This law went into place at the beginning of 2017.
It’s also important to consider what’s happening abroad. The United States can learn from overseas markets. In 2015, the French Parliament passed a law where new buildings in commercial zones must partially cover their roofs with either plants or solar panels. This was considerable progress for France where rooftops make up 70% of the installed solar capacity in France, according to PVC-Tech. In 2016, the French Parliament continued on the path to solar energy savings and adopted a new lab on self-consumption of electricity from renewable energy sources. According to RenewableEnergyWorld.com, this provided a legal framework for self-consumption of renewables and will even introduce a definition of “self-consumption” and “collective self-consumption.” With this law, grid operations will also be required to help facilitate self-consumption.
This law also states that the Energy Regulatory Commission will also be required to establish a network usage tariff that is adapted for self-consumption systems alone. The law removes priority access and dispatch of coal-fired electricity facilities and establishes priority access and dispatch for renewables in all of France and French islands alike.
Later in 2016, the French Government also announced targets for renewable energy capacity to be installed by 2023. According to the France’s program of Energy, their new objectives will be used in “defining the priorities for the French government in relation to the development of renewable energy on mainland France between 2016 and 2023.”
Spain is another European company who is very active in promoting solar energy in its country. First in 2015, the government approved a national law on self-consumption, similar to that of France. This energy in the form of solar installations will be taxed disproportionately. The majority of self-consumers will be taxed for the amount of electricity that they generate and consume in their home with their own PV system.
Spain’s Council of Ministers approved this new self-consumption law known as a “sun tax,” that solar advocates say taxes self-consumption PV installations even for the electricity that they produce for their own use.
According to Spain’s Photovoltaic Union (UNEF), this new law requires self-consumption PV system owners to pay the same grid fees that all electricity consumers in Spain pay, plus a so-called ‘sun tax’. “A self-consumption PV owner “will pay a ‘sun tax’ for the whole power [capacity] installed (the power that you contracted to your electricity company, plus the power from your PV installation) and also another [second] ‘sun tax’ for the electricity that you generate and self-consume from your own PV installation (this applies to installations larger than 10 kW).” Installations that are smaller than 10 kW and all installations in the Canary Islands and in the cities, Melilla and Ceuta, are exempt from this tax. Also, installations with co-generation are exempt from the tax until 2020.
This law sets out to repair the tariff deficit experienced by the Tariff of Last Resort in the country who governs nearly 95% of all electricity consumption in Spain. The new law also requires permission to be obtained before installation takes place from the grid-connected electricity system (the electricity supplier) and the Spanish government themselves.
Solar energy seems to be a great investment in Spain due to the falling prices of solar systems and the abundant of sunshine in the country. Because of this, more households are installing solar systems, despite anyone’s opinion on the sun tax as it is helping to reduce the deficit significantly.
Ultimately, as solar energy continues to grow both in the United States and globally, laws will continue to evolve, hopefully in ways that promote (vs. hindering) solar.