Clean Power

Published on November 19th, 2012 | by John Farrell


Preparing For “Cheaper Than Grid” Solar Electricity

November 19th, 2012 by  

It started with off-grid locations, places where electricity was either carried in or generated on-site. Then it beat expensive diesel generators. In 2010, unsubsidized solar electricity could best on-grid retail electricity prices of major utilities in Hawaii. In the next decade, residents in metropolitan areas representing 100 million people will watch the biggest solar barrier yet – economics – fall by the wayside.

But cost isn’t the only barrier to solar, and U.S. states should carefully consider the lessons learned in Hawaii as solar creeps toward cost parity with the grid.

For one, utilities adhere to archaic limits on local power generation that can severely curtail the expansion of residential and commercial rooftop solar power. For another, local permit authorities can be overwhelmed when cost-effective solar means that as many has half of local building permit applications are for solar installations. And costly electrical upgrades and grid interconnection studies can add thousands to the cost of solar arrays.

Then there are the 3 out of 4 residential and commercial buildings that aren’t suitable for solar because of the orientation or shading or because the occupant is a renter, but who could “go solar” by sharing in a community project.

And of course there’s the political backlash if the existing incentives for solar don’t scale back commensurate with the falling cost of solar, leaving taxpayers holding the bag.

This short presentation outlines the challenges and solutions from Hawaii (and the full details can be found in the report here):

Hawaiian Sunblock: Solar Facing Unexpected Barriers Despite Low Cost from John Farrell

This post originally appeared on ILSR’s Energy Self-Reliant States blog.

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About the Author

directs the Democratic Energy program at ILSR and he focuses on energy policy developments that best expand the benefits of local ownership and dispersed generation of renewable energy. His seminal paper, Democratizing the Electricity System, describes how to blast the roadblocks to distributed renewable energy generation, and how such small-scale renewable energy projects are the key to the biggest strides in renewable energy development.   Farrell also authored the landmark report Energy Self-Reliant States, which serves as the definitive energy atlas for the United States, detailing the state-by-state renewable electricity generation potential. Farrell regularly provides discussion and analysis of distributed renewable energy policy on his blog, Energy Self-Reliant States (, and articles are regularly syndicated on Grist and Renewable Energy World.   John Farrell can also be found on Twitter @johnffarrell, or at

  • David Fuchs

    This is where Solar as an appliance comes in. No permits are needed. Get a panel with synchronizing inverter, plug it into an outlet and like magic you have power with out the need of a permit.

    Next on the to do list create a plug in 120-220 volt panel to plug panels into. Then sell that as an appliance.

    • This is not much of a solution since its maximum power output needs to be limited to the minimum consumption of your house. Otherwise you are loosing money by sending electricity to the grid without having it metered.

      This package kit would be great if it had an affordable electricity storage solution included in the package.

      It could also helped by a house automation system and dispatchable electricity consumers in the house (say a heat pump which can use the solar electricity at any time and provide heating or cooling when there is excess solar electricity).

    • Ronald Brak

      Stealth solar would be very handy in my country, but it would have to be designed so people don’t get arrested for providing free electricity to the grid without a permit. It might even have to be sold as “camping gear” and just happen to be able to provide household power.

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