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Utilities and Solar Companies Fight Over Arizona’s Rooftops

Residential solar installers innovate to get around utility grid fees

3 min read
Utilities and Solar Companies Fight Over Arizona’s Rooftops
Sunshine and Strife: It will take smarter rooftop solar installations to get around Arizona utility rules that have halted growth in the state.
Photo: Sandy Huffaker/Corbis

The explosive expansion of U.S. residential rooftop solar installations—which increased by 51 percent last year—threatens utilities’ traditional role as electricity suppliers. The resulting backlash has been most intense in sun-bleached Arizona, which is second only to California in installed solar capacity. The battle has the potential to blunt the state’s solar growth, but there are signs that it could also inspire grid-friendly technologies that expand solar’s role.

The utility backlash got real in recent months as Arizona utilities levied or proposed new fees for customers installing rooftop solar systems. Tempe-based Salt River Project (SRP), which serves much of greater Phoenix, has seen applications to connect solar systems drop 96 percent since it announced a new rate structure in December 2014.

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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