No one would disagree that investor-owned utilities in California, which are required to get 33% of their energy from renewable sources by 2020, should procure the cheapest available renewable energy. But according to a recent analysis, that’s not what’s happening.

The California Public Utilities Commission Division of Ratepayer Advocates faults PG&E, Southern California Edison (SCE) and San Diego Gas & Electric for entering contracts for large-scale solar electricity projects that cost more than natural gas-fired electricity currently costs. The big utilities seem to be lured by unproven or expensive solar technologies. For example, PG&E has a contract with a company that promises to beam down solar power from outer space. Meanwhile, SCE recently canceled a contract for a newfangled solar dish power plant in the Mojave desert.

Solar dish technology looks promising but has not been proven to be commercially scalable. As for beaming solar energy from outer space, that idea inhabits the science fiction end of the feasibility spectrum.  And that brings us around to Sungevity’s favorite clean energy technology, good ole’ photovoltaic (PV) solar panels. They’re cheap, they’re proven and by God are they sleek and sexy!  Okay, it’s a little clunky, but the humble PV panel has been quietly generating solar electricity for fifty years. The only thing that’s changed in all this time is that the panels have dropped in price while becoming more efficient. Ka-ching!

Nobody loves clean energy technology like Sungevity–provided it really works, meaning that the technological innovation functions to drive down the price of renewable energy for consumers.  The media often hypes big new clean energy innovations before they’re proven to be scalable or economical.  It’s understandable–scientific breakthroughs are exciting and inspiring and we as a society are nervously waiting to see which technology will be the silver bullet that will save us from an energy or climate crisis.

But in the meantime, let’s stick with what works. Instead of pouring money into expensive sci-fi schemes, utilities should invest in a decent net metering or feed-in-tariff program that pays homeowners a fair price for the electricity they generate on their roofs. Less carbon, more savings, starting right now.

–Erica Etelson

Posted by Danny Kennedy

Danny Kennedy co-founded Sungevity and now serves as strategic advisor. He is an internationally recognized opinion leader on climate and energy issues. He is the author of Rooftop Revolution: How Solar Power Can Save Our Economy - and Planet - from Dirty Energy (2012), a book that has been described as the clean energy manifesto for the next greatest generation.

One Comment

  1. It’s about time California went to something higher than 20%, 33% is more like it.

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