Peer-to-Peer Solar Power

Solar power was once a mere fantasy of the green-minded egalitarians. However, solar efficiency has  reached a point of practicality, where it is forcing its way into our marketplace and recreating the way in which energy is acquired and commodified. Once the ignored and neglected energy stepchild, solar is now disrupting traditional sources of power and the traditional powers are pushing back. Even though solar currently comprises less than one percent of America’s energy, and fossil fuels enjoy major tax advantages not afforded alternative energy, it’s growth curve is threatening the energy establishment.

Nevada’s legislature decided to do something about the growing threat of renewable energy.  Recently it passed legislation that sabotaged the solar industry and unprecedentedly removed the grandfathering of the terms and conditions that incentivise people to to invest in rooftop solar. By doing this they have not only brought new solar production and installation to a standstill, something that was providing thousands of jobs in an economically needy state, they are creating a consumer backlash by those who acquired solar through capital investments with the promise of certain returns. 


We’ll stop showing this when it stops being relevant. (click to enlarge)

Net metering is a practice that rewarded solar power adopters with refunds on their abundance of energy supplied to the grid, helping keep grid demands manageable and allowing solar energy providers with additional benefits to their energy production. Those with solar panels could sell their excess electricity back to the utility receiving credits, which they could monetize. This model was particularly effective in Nevada, because casinos are a large energy consumers and homes disperse energy acquisition, helping the grid endure large fluctuations.

But Nevada, under the pressure of Warren Buffett’s Nevada’s utility company NV Energy, with help from ALEC and the Koch brothers, has suddenly changed the game. Not only did the Nevada legislature vote to charge a fee for rooftop solar and lower the payout for energy provided to the grid, they did it with no grandfathering of systems set up under prior terms. By doing this, the economic return is mitigated, removing financial incentives for solar conversion. SolarCity is suing the state of Nevada, and the other providers may soon follow.

Before solar enthusiasts lose hope over this sinister maneuver, understand that crisis is also opportunity. When music became readily available through the internet, but was still too expensive to make new devices, like the iPod practical, peer-to-peer networks sprouted. This allowed people to share their music with each other for free, the then modern version of copying tapes. Suddenly, mobile music devices could actually entertain to the extent of their capacity. A series of pushbacks and compromises followed, leading to our current state of music sharing that pays artists yet allows reasonable acquisition. Digital music prices came down and new providers sprung up. This model is being rolled out with renewable energy as well.

The internet and solar viability have made it possible for those who have an abundance of renewable solar power to share it with the energy needy. This has previously only been done by selling the excess electricity back to the grid, helping the utility stabilize electricity disbursement. Recently, a growing number of peer-to-peer energy networks, like Yeloha and CloudSolar are making it possible to sell energy directly to consumers or to broker more competitive prices, essentially sharing their solar.  

Yeloha provides two types of solar services. The first is the somewhat familiar rooftop panels, but for people who can’t afford it. Yeloha installs the panels and then gives the “host” about a third of the electricity provided. This reduces or eliminates the host’s energy bill and Yeloha profits from receiving the other two thirds of the electricity produced. This is similar to the model used by SolarCity, the fastest growing solar provider in America, but requires no credit thresholds, because the panels aren’t leased.

Solar panels on a house near Boston, MA (click to enlarge).

Solar panels on a house near Boston, MA (click to enlarge).

The second type is the subscribers or sun partners. These people don’t have the setup to host solar panels, either because they live in an apartment, a poorly aligned location or some other disqualifying factor, but they want to get their energy from solar power instead of fossil fuels. They purchase solar credits, which are slightly cheaper than energy provided by the utility, and those credits insure that the energy that powers their homes comes from a solar host. They can even choose the host. This reduces the demand for fossil fuels and lowers the pricing for all energy sources.  

CloudSolar does some similar things, but also operates a solar farm. On the farm there are many solar panels. You can buy a solar panel or even a part of one and get the profits from the energy sold to the utilities or direct to consumers. You download an app and can see exactly how much electricity your panel provides and how much money you make in real time. You don’t have to wait for quarterly reports or profit statements. When your energy is bought, you get your percentage, which you can see on a smartphone app. This allows you to directly invest in the development of solar power while getting an immediate return on investment.

The model works particularly well when coupled with renewable sources (solar and wind) or by virtue of advanced storage methods, where off-peak energy is saved in a battery for future use. These methods, although fledgling, provide a broad based answer to the monopolistic utility companies as well as provide an economically viable solution to pollution energy.  

The fossil fuel industry is the largest and richest industry in the world. They are not going to just lie down and watch new, cleaner, better fuel sources make them obsolete. But the solutions are now in the hands of the many and that means that it’s just a matter of time before the dinosaurs who are exploiting the dinosaurs also become extinct.