This week, Inside Energy is exploring how solar power is changing the way electricity is delivered in the U.S. See the full series here.
As rooftop solar becomes more affordable, tensions have grown between electric utility companies and residents. Why? A widespread policy called net metering, which requires utilities to purchase back power generated by their customers’ solar panels, is nibbling at utility company’s bottom lines.
Inside Energy’s Dan Boyce reported this week that some utilities are fighting back by spending millions of dollars on anti-rooftop solar marketing campaigns and attempts to influence public policy on the issue.
As shown in the graph below, Energy Information Administration data on the number of net metering customers in three sunny states - Arizona, Colorado, and Florida - tells three very different stories:
- In Arizona, there were 1,092 net metering customers in 2007 and 23,397 in 2012 - a growth of 2000%. After the rapid increase in net metering customers in 2012, a nasty political battle broke out in 2013 as Arizona utilities lobbied to institute a steep fee on net-metering customers.
- In Colorado, there were 255 net metering customers in 2007 and 14,236 in 2012 - a fifty-fold increase. While utilities like Xcel are campaigning for residents to support industrial solar instead of rooftop solar, the political climate in the state remains amenable to net metering.
- In Florida, there were 160 net metering customers in 2007 and 4,178 in 2012, which is relatively slow growth compared to Colorado and Arizona. A state with abundant sunshine, Florida’s local laws disincentivize rooftop solar. As a result, the state has lagged behind in net metering customers.
Although this data shows all residential net metering customers (the Energy Information Administration only started breaking them out by energy type in 2010), around 98% use solar panels.
Nationwide, California dominates the solar market. In 2012, half of the 300,000 net metering customers in the U.S. lived in California:
But let’s keep this in perspective. Although net metering and the affordability of rooftop solar have utility companies pushing back, solar remains a tiny slice of the electric utility pie: Only one-quarter of one percent of U.S. households, or one in 400, were net-metering customers in 2012.
Inside Energy will be continuing to follow net metering and the tensions it causes between residents and utilities.
- View a summary of the net metering data for Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, and the United States from 2007 to 2012 compiled by Inside Energy as a Google spreadsheet.
- Net metering data through 2012 is available from the Energy Information Administration, and 2013 data will be published later this year.
- To calculate the percent of households that are net metering customers, we used the 2012 U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey estimate of 116 million households.