The utilities might not want to hear it, but rooftop solar power is saving everyone money. That’s what new research from Boston University found. In Massachusetts alone solar saved utility customers $184 million between 2010 and 2012.
Boston University Professor of Earth and Environment Robert Kaufmann and then Vassar College undergraduate Devina published their research in the June 2016 edition of Energy Policy. “Until now people have focused on how much was being saved by those who owned PV. What this analysis quantified was that it actually generates savings for everybody,” Kaufmann said. “We’re the first ones to really calculate system-wide savings on an hourly basis,” Kaufmann said. The hourly average for electric prices is a more accurate way to measure how solar power impacts those prices.
“This study is fantastic in pointing out just one of the many benefits of solar energy and how it brings real economic value to all ratepayers,” says Nathan Phelps, program manager of distributed generation regulatory policy for the nonprofit Vote Solar, a California-based non-profit grassroots organization that advocates for solar energy and has offices in Boston. “The economic calculations, as far as total costs and total benefits, can be difficult for many entities, especially state entities, to calculate, because they don’t necessarily have the time or expertise.”
The research found that the summer months with their long, hot days and people running air conditioners, electric demand is highest. During those times utilities must source electricity from more power plants, which means turing on less efficient power plants that provide more expensive electricity, according to the research. Thankfully that’s also when solar panels are most productive and utilities can use the extra electric generation already on the grid to supplement their needs.
The research found that each kilowatt hour of electricity produced by solar panels reduces electric prices by about 1 cent per kilowatt hour, compared to the price of power from those less efficient peaker power plants.
In Massachusetts utilities must also purchase solar renewable energy credits (SRECs) for the power generated by rooftop systems to meet their renewable energy requirements. It should be noted that this isn’t the case in all states. But even with the SREC purchases Kaufman said it is currently a wash on the impact of electric prices in the state. “The savings generated by PVs basically cover the cost of the SREC, so in reality, consumers are paying nothing for the SRECs,” he said. He added that eventually the sale of SRECS will benefit all ratepayers when the state’s SREC program ends and the solar rooftops continue to produce electricity for the grid.Tweet