Why is Electricity So Expensive?
We can complain all we want about the absurdly high price of electricity, but this situation is likely to persist for two reasons.
First, electric companies are government-sanctioned monopoly utilities. There is usually only one electricity supplier, just as there is one water and natural gas supplier. Telephone services — and phones themselves — used to be a monopoly; it took years of legal battles leveraging the Sherman Antitrust Act to break the telephone monopoly. Now there is a competitive market for phone services and handsets, just as there is the potential for a free and competitive market for electricity.
Second, the cost of electricity is primarily affected by the local cost of living; factors such as electric company wages, real estate costs, taxes, etc. So locations with a high cost of living — such as Hawaii, California and New York — have high electricity prices. And these high electric prices are likely to persist without some magical solution.
Speaking of magical solutions, it’s not practical to drill a well in your back yard for your own natural gas or water, but I can imagine a future in which you could generate your own electricity. How are the existing monopoly electricity providers reacting to this reality in which customers can produce their own less expensive electricity?
Please listen up to this week’s Energy Show as we delve into the reasons why electricity is so expensive — and how things are changing as solar, storage and better public policies are rolled out.
You just invested in a brand new EV charged by your rooftop solar and battery. Then, a year later, your utility adds a $50/month fixed charge to your bill just because you have rooftop solar. How would you feel? This scenario is not just hypothetical. Utilities all over the country are lobbying to change rates for solar and battery customers by adding large fixed fees, eliminating net metering, delaying interconnections, and deliberately mismanaging incentive programs.
This anti-competitive behavior should be no surprise. Businesses don’t like competition; it hurts their profits. Homes and businesses can generate electricity for much less than their utility charges. So rather than find ways to be more efficient, competitive and environmentally friendly, utilities spend hundreds of millions of dollars suppressing competition from rooftop solar and battery storage and diminishing your solar and battery storage rights. To add insult to injury, the money they are spending was collected from ratepayers. You!
Unfortunately, the solar and storage industry doesn’t have the bankroll to counteract these utility lobbying efforts. But what we do have is public support: polling shows that 95% of people support solar and battery storage. The Solar Rights Alliance was founded to convert the support of millions of solar and storage enthusiasts into action that will change these anti-competitive, environmentally-hostile policies. The Solar Rights Alliance operates under the premise that everyone should have the right to generate his or her own power directly from the sun, and that no monopoly company or special interest should try to block or “own” the sun.
My guest on this week’s show is Dave Rosenfeld, the Executive Director of the Solar Rights Alliance. He’s spent his career building movements and institutions that expand freedom, liberty and justice — including National Public Radio, the Public Interest Research Group and the Public Interest Network. Please listen up to this week’s Energy Show as Dave and I discuss the issues that the Solar Rights Alliance fights for every day to protect your solar and battery storage rights.
Solar panels are long term assets – guaranteed by every manufacturer for at least 25 years. Lithium ion batteries are guaranteed by most manufacturers for at least 10 years. But no major solar panel manufacturers have been in business for 25 years, and no major battery companies have been shipping residential systems for 10 years.
So how can a homeowner, building owner or financing company assess the reliability of solar panels and batteries? The best way is to scientifically gather and assess reliability data for these components. To be objective, this reliability analysis must be done by an independent organization – not by manufacturers.
PV Evolution Labs is the leading independent lab for equipment testing. They assess the bankability of PV modules, inverters, storage, and other balance-of-system equipment. Joining us on this week’s Energy Show is Jenya Meydbray, CEO and co-founder of PV Evolution Labs.
Please Listen Up to this week’s Energy Show as Jenya talks about the founding of PV Evolution Labs and shares his insights on reliability of solar panels and batteries. Jenya and I also share our real-world reliability advice as manufacturers, contractors and technologies come and go over the years.
One of the relatively minor side effects of the wildfires in California is the layer of dust and ash that has coated virtually every outdoor surface — including over one million homes with rooftop solar panels. So there are literally millions of people wondering: “Should I clean my solar panels?”
Fortunately, with today’s accurate solar monitoring systems, a system owner can actually determine the energy lost from dirty solar panels — and calculate the savings that can be achieved by cleaning them periodically.
Wind-blown dust and dirt is the source of most soiling on solar panels. Just like your car or your windows, the dust accumulates on the surface and builds up over time. If you’re in a dusty area like a farm or near dirt roads, this dust accumulation may be worse. Pollen from trees is another source of solar panel soiling, particularly in the spring. Some people talk about cleaning up after birds, but bird debris is usually not a problem unless your name is Hitchcock and you live in Bodega Bay.
When solar panels get dirty, photons from the sun are absorbed or reflected by the dirt instead of being converted into electrons — thereby reducing system output. The amount of output decline varies based on the location of soiling on the panels and the thickness of the soiling layer.
Heavy rains do an OK job of cleaning light dirt and debris off solar panels. But if you are in a dry and dusty are, if you can see a layer of ash on your solar panels, or if your solar monitoring system shows a significant drop off in energy product, it may be time to get your panels cleaned.
Please Listen Up to this week’s Energy Show as we walk through the performance implications of dirty solar panels, and describe the best ways to safely and effectively clean your panels (hints: never hose them off, use deionized water and an environmentally safe cleaning solution).
For the first time in 20 years California is experiencing rolling blackouts. Reports indicate that over 3 million residents were recently affected. Conditions that caused these blackouts will continue, and the situation will get worse during fire season when we can expect Public Safety Power Shutoffs.
In the olden days, blackouts were an opportunity to sit around by the fire and read by candlelight. Not any more. We rely on electricity to keep our food cold, to keep our lights on, to charge our cars and to keep our family connected to both school and work.
PG&E is not being candid about the real cause of these recent blackouts. Ostensibly, the rolling blackouts were caused when hot weather caused air conditioning demand to spike at the same time that several 500 MW natural gas power plants went offline, either due to scheduled maintenance or failure. But when I checked into the cause of several extended Silicon Valley outages, it became apparent that these outages were due to local transformer failures — not the one to two hour rolling blackouts that were announced.
The solution is almost universally recognized: more battery storage capacity charged by solar. I say “almost” because PG&E and other utilities are still recommending flashlights, candles and gas generators. Their logic is entirely based on their profit motive to install more of their own generating and storage capacity. PG&E and other utilities don’t want homeowners to install solar-charged battery backup systems — which are safe, reliable and affordable.
Please tune in to this week’s Energy Show for the gory details about this latest rash of blackouts — as well as what you can do to keep your lights on, your food cold and your family connected.