voiceofsandiego.org reader Rick Smith of Sabre Springs says:

Living where I do, looking down upon the flat roofs of the Morning Creek

Elementary School, I have always thought that the first location for distributed solar generation facilities should be public facilities and especially schools. Advantages: There are lots of schools and roofs. (By state law every trailer installed should have solar panels.) Also, at peak summer demand, school demand is minimal and if the power generated was credited to the schools, the schools could spend less on power and more on teaching. Your thoughts?

My response:

I agree that there are millions of acres of flat roofs around San Diego County that could support solar power systems.

Energy policy advocate Jim Bell has published data indicating that if only 15 percent of the roofs in San Diego County were covered by photovoltaic (PV) solar panels or shingles, we could produce all the power we need from the sun, even if our peak demand increases over time.

There are several things hindering our movement in this direction. Solar power generation technology is still expensive, although the cost of solar panels and shingles is coming down as the technology is refined, and this year, the federal government and state government have adopted new incentives to help customers cover the cost of installing solar systems on their homes and businesses. Each customer has to look at their own financial circumstances and the solar orientation of their home or commercial facilities to see if putting up solar systems will pencil out for them.

There are a growing number of solar energy companies that finance and install rooftop solar systems, but the general public needs to become better educated about the benefits and costs involved before they are likely to adopt solar power en masse.

One obstacle to more solar power being used are existing utility rate structures, tariffs and interconnection rules. For example, say you are a university system, and want to put photovoltaics up on your gym roof. You then want to transport the electricity generated by that system a few blocks to power your administration offices. To do that, you would have to sell any excess power generated on the gym roof, that is not used in that building to SDG&E at wholesale rates, then buy the power you need for the administrative building from SDG&E at retail rates. The utility’s current interpretation of existing laws and CPUC interconnection policies don’t allow you to simply wheel the power generated by PVs on the gym to the admin building. The same policies apply to solar power generated anywhere on the system if a customer wants to move it to another building and use it. A bill to change this policy was introduced in the state legislature last year but didn’t get out of committee. Solar customers, and companies and local governments who want to do this kind of wheeling of solar power are looking at introducing a refined version of the bill in January.

At the root of this debate is the CPUC’s current utility infrastructure ratebasing policies. Those policies were developed back when each utility had a vertical monopoly on local power generation and transmission, and reward utility shareholders for building and operating utility owned powerplants, transmission lines and local distribution systems, but do not reward them for supporting things like rooftop solar power, since they are not currently allowed to ratebase any money they spend supporting local solar efforts. The CPUC and the state legislature adopted the California Energy Action Plan in 2003. The EAP’s energy resource “loading order” puts priorities on various energy resources. Energy efficiency tops the list, followed by renewable energy and distributed generation, and traditional fossil fueled powerplants and related transmission projects are at the bottom of the list. It is time for the CPUC to review and refine its current utility ratebasing policies and rules to bring them into better alignment with the Energy Action Plan loading order. If that happens, one of these days you may be looking down on roofs covered with solar PV shingles.

But to get there we will also need to address the fact that the sun doesn’t shine at night, by developing better energy storage systems to provide us 24/7 power.


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