In Wisconsin, utilities are jacking up the price to connect to their electrical grid. In Oklahoma, utilities pushed through a law this spring that allows them to charge the people who own solar panels and wind turbines more to connect to their electrical grid. In Arizona, the state has decided to charge extra property taxes to households that are leasing solar panels.
Welcome to the solar backlash. In Grist’s “Utilities for Dummies” series last year, David Roberts prophesied that solar and other renewables could “lay waste to U.S. power utilities and burn the utility business model, which has remained virtually unchanged for a century, to the ground.” And lo, it is coming to pass — though not without a fight from the utilities first.
This May, Barclays downgraded its rating of America’s electricity sector from “market weight” to “underweight.” Its rationale? Solar — or, more specifically, the great leaps that are happening or expected to happen in technology for storing the energy that solar generates. While the solar industry took a roller-coaster ride over the last decade, the R&D that went into electric cars created the killer add-on it was waiting for: really awesome batteries.
It’s not a coincidence that Tesla formed a sales partnership last year with the solar panel development giant Solar City. The two companies are basically smushing solar panels and fancy electric cars together to create a Transformers-like superhouse that could join with similar houses to form a microgrid, no utility necessary. In their utopia, a house could be powered in the off-hours by the battery from the car parked in the garage. Or, if you’re not car people, you could just buy the battery. Tesla is claiming that the cost of their batteries will drop in half by 2020.