April 8, 2015

The Way We Power Our Homes May Be On The Verge Of A Major Change

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April 7, 2015 | The Washington Post | Chris Mooney

At Inside Energy, we’ve been investigating this phenomenon for the past few months — our electrical infrastructure is challenged and is changing, and those changes will have significant effects on our lives. Chris Mooney of the Post has been providing excellent and thorough coverage of this ongoing transformation, and his latest story is the latest chapter. Mooney has explained why going completely off the grid might not be such a great idea, why smart meters haven’t changed America’s energy habits and how knowing your “energy personality” could radically change your energy habits, among other fascinating science and energy stories.

The most recent story on grid transformation reports on a new study by the Rocky Mountain Institute that details the critical juncture we are now facing with home electricity use. Distributed generation — specifically rooftop solar — has come down so far in price that it is now feasible and economically beneficial for homeowners in many parts of the country to produce their own power, and store it for electricity use when the sun isn’t shining. Quoting from the report,

Grid-connected self-consuming solar will become economic for nearly all customers imminently, with grid-connected solar plus-battery systems following soon after.

The implication of this change is that buying power from a utility may no longer be necessary, which will profoundly challenge utilities’ traditional revenue model. This doesn’t necessarily mean there will be massive “grid defection.”  In fact, Mooney notes:

While most people will stay connected so that they’ll always have backup power, they’ll increasingly generate and store more and more of their own, and potentially sell it back to the grid (a key reason to remain connected).

The Rocky Mountain Institute argues that utilities need to become part of this revolution by developing an “integrated grid” model in which distributed sources of energy work in concert with utility-generated electricity to lower costs and lower carbon emissions. Utilities could help consumers finance and build their home electricity systems, perhaps modeling their efforts on cable companies who rent components of home entertainment to customers. Utilities could rent and maintain components of these new home electricity systems.

Stay tuned as Inside Energy explores this electrical grid transformation in coming weeks. You can help with our investigation by telling us about your experience with power outages in this short survey.