March 16, 2015

SolarCity, A Vocal Critic Of The Utility Industry, Joins It

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March 16, 2015 | The New York Times | Diane Cardwell

Today, rooftop solar system provider SolarCity announced its plans to offer small off-grid solar systems known as microgrids to “any community anywhere in the world vulnerable to power outages and high energy costs.” The company is marketing the new offering under the name GridLogic, which aims to give communities the tools — and the financing — to create small power networks based on a distributed model of electricity generation and storage, and smart grid technology. According to the press release, “GridLogic can operate either in conjunction with or independently of the utility grid,” and can “provide electricity to communities for less than they pay for utility power with the added benefit of backup power for emergency services.”

The New York Times reports that this is a notable shift — at least in rhetoric — for the company, whose executives are said to have heavily criticized the traditional utility industry to-date. Whether the company is aligning with or aiming to supersede existing infrastructure and providers remains to be seen. Peter Rive, SolarCity’s co-founder, described the new service as “a template that can be scaled up to basically be the next-generation grid.” The announcement begs the questions of how traditional utility companies feel about the new service, and how the regulatory framework in place for the industry will apply to this seemingly hybrid model of electricity provision.

For background on how solar power is changing the way electricity is delivered in the U.S., check out Inside Energy’s series The Solar Challenge. And, be on the lookout for an upcoming series on the future of the grid: We’ll explore the ways in which our century-old grid is threatened by changing technologies, cyber attack, and extreme weather, and investigate a number of potential solutions.