Unlike some of my colleagues, I'm not an expert on solar energy. That said, what better way to pass a drizzly evening in California than with some excellent local gin (it really tastes like a forest!) and some interesting solar business models? Don't get me wrong - I'm thrilled to have desperately-needed rain in the parched Bay Area, but in the wake of the passage of SB 350, which has increased our RPS target to 50% by 2030, I'm inclined to take a look at some ways businesses are attempting to get renewables into California homes.
Like all of my best economics news/information, these three gems come from people I'm following on twitter (I can't sing its praises as a research idea generation mechanism enough!). None of them are the grid-scale renewables projects that really will drive RPS compliance, but they are each interesting.
First up: over 1,500 people funded a green-glow Kickstarter item, the Sunport. Plug this little yellow guy into a wall socket, and it will measure the amount of energy used through that socket. For every kWh you use, it will purchase a solar Renewable Energy Credit (REC). Notice that customers who purchase Sunports are still paying their utilities for power - and then paying more on top of that for the RECs. This is like a miniature green power plan for any plug in your house. The big important question with this guy is: Where are the RECS coming from? Are these RECs coming out of the "bucket" that the ISO RECS fall into, making them very valuable? Or from the DG bucket, making them much less important market movers?
Next is Yeloha (the name is apparently a combination of "yellow" and "aloha"...). These guys let you, the apartment-dweller (or other non-solar-suitable-roof-owner) pay for solar panels on someone else's roof, in exchange for cheaper electricity, and more green (yellow?) glow. Interesting note: Yeloha owns the RECs your system generates. I wonder what this does to the marginal (or, since we believe Koichiro that consumers don't listen to the marginal) or average price the consumer faces. I also wonder how much of this is just a pure transfer. And whether people change their consumption behavior in the presence of green glow.
Finally, our internet overlords, Google, have recently launched Project Sunroof. This website lets you input your address, and in turn, it will tell you how well suited your house is for solar. It provides a savings estimate, based on your house's weather, sunshine, and tree cover. It combines these estimates with a 2.2% average energy price increase, no maintenance over the first 20 years, and, annoyingly, shows the un-discounted savings in big bold numbers, with the much lower discounted savings (assuming 4%, pretty reasonable) in a tiny font to the side (which you only get to after clicking through to the detailed estimates). It also assumes net metering will continue. Catherine has already complained about solar marketing, so I won't go too far down that road, but I would appreciate a solar-value-predictor where it was easier to tweak assumptions. (As far as I know, Google isn't trying to sell you solar per se - but it does link to several solar providers, and Google does sell ads, so...)
It's too early to say what the renewables expansion will look like in California - it's important to remember that grid-scale renewables are likely the most efficient way to achieve these renewables targets - but I'll be sure to keep an eye on the Sunport, Yeloha, and Project Sunroof along the way.