Californian solar storage exemption offers PV push

Utility regulators in the U.S. state of California have recently amended rules on net metering that promise to remove a series of obstacles for solar self consumption.

In a nutshell, the new ruling dictates that solar storage systems of less than 10 kW will be able to use an estimation for net energy metering (NEM) derating and be exempt from any interconnection fees to the grid. Systems larger than 10 kW will require a separate meter for measuring the interplay of battery charging and PV generation. The cost of this will be capped at $600 per system. Any NEM-paired storage system that is larger than 10 kW will only be able to produce up to 150% of the generator’s maximum output capacity.

These changes by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) have been introduced in an attempt to tackle the ongoing schism between utilities in the state – led by the big three of Southern California Edison, Pacific Gas & Electric and San Diego Gas & Electric – and solar supporters. California’s utility companies have been urging regulators to review installed solar storage systems, predicated on the fear that consumers may be ‘gaming’ the system by storing conventional power and then feeding it into the grid under the misnomer of ‘green’, net-metered power. The utilities had called for fees of between $1,400 and $3,700 to be levied on each system.

Lyndon Rive, CEO of SolarCity, argued in a recent public address that "there is no extra complexity in interconnecting a PV system with storage versus just a PV system", adding that interconnecting a SolarCity energy storage system takes an average of eight months.

The President of the CPUC, Mike Peevey, has since announced that changes will be implemented, prompting outspoken chairman of CASE (the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy) Jigar Shah to proclaim: "This is the beginning of the end for the utilities."

Since last week’s discussions, the CPUC’s final ruling is a rebuke for the utility companies and, while it does not deliver on everything that solar supporters were hoping for, goes a fair way towards removing many of the obstacles that the distributed generation industry had faced.

"We are very encouraged by the proposed decision having no application fees, and having the costs of the meters capped," SolarCity COO Peter Rive told Greentech Media. "SolarCity already monitors each individual meter at the inverter so I don’t think a meter is necessary, but we are moving things forward."

The decision by the CPUC to support solar in such a manner has been widely applauded throughout the state and the wider solar industry, with many claiming it a victory for distributed storage and a harsh lesson learned for utility companies that have been unwilling to take a more proactive and collaborative approach with their customers.