PG&E recently launched the Solar Choice Program, which allows customers to opt in to purchasing 50% or 100% of their power from a central, utility-owned solar farm. This is an exciting move that accomplishes quite a few things in one fell swoop by lowering the bar for customers to go solar and, in parallel, giving PG&E a finger on the pulse for a new solar product. Finally, it also allows them to tie Solar Choice customer bill payments to funding new and existing solar farms.
Ironically, with the approval of SB 350, California utilities have been mandated to increase the percent of energy sourced from renewables from 33% by 2020 to 50% in 2030, so the Solar Choice program effectively allows PG&E to split base generation from solar generation in order to charge a premium from customers who opt in. If no customers opt in to Solar Choice… the utility still has to buck up and deliver 50% of grid power from renewables… which will be cheaper and customer preferred in the long run… but I digress.
Digging into PG&E’s numbers reveals that more than 55% of the energy it delivers to customers today comes from sources that emit no greenhouse gases — though, this does include the large Diablo Canyon Nuclear Facility. With the Solar Choice program stating that customers opting in support the installation of new solar, it should still make a forward-leaning impact on the grid mix by funding solar specifically.
Flipping over to the customer side of things — why would someone want to opt into a program that likely costs more than the normal power program? Is it the feelgood nature of the program? Is it that they are standing up for what they believe in by putting their money towards solar generation? These do make sense, but given the fact noted above that the utility has to deliver 50% of electricity from renewables by 2030, does opting into such a program make sense? Will it actually result in more solar generation being added? Only time will tell how that actually plays out.
For customers who want to stand up for solar and don’t mind paying a little more for their power (3.58 cents per kWh premium), this program is a perfect fit. That is extremely important for homeowners or renters who, for whatever reason, simply cannot install solar — whether it be due to an HOA, no suitable sunshine, not enough roof space to install sufficient generating capacity, etc… it is an unfortunately all-too-common scenario. A recent NREL study wrote:
“We estimate that only 51% of households can install a 1.5-kW PV system. In other words, shared solar has the potential to double the residential market by offering PV to the 49% of households that—owing to shading, roof suitability and size, or ownership—cannot host a PV system.”
PG&E Senior Vice President and Chief Customer Officer Laurie Giammona shares the company perspective:
“PG&E’s Solar Choice program is all about giving customers more choice and control over their energy, and bringing the benefits of solar to our communities. Our customers already enjoy some of the cleanest power in the country. Now, they can directly contribute to bringing more renewable energy onto the electric grid – a win for our customers and for California.”
The early response from customers is positive, with many customers getting on board soon after it opened. The Kelly Slater Wave Company is one of the first California businesses to partner with PG&E’s Solar Choice to go 100% solar. The program has allowed it to purchase renewable energy with zero greenhouse gas emissions while shrinking its carbon footprint at the same time.
The company is powering its new human-made wave technology at the new high-performance training center in California’s Central Valley. From the aerial views, the location doesn’t appear to have any shortage of land to install a solar array on, but the decision to purchase solar power vs solar panels is also largely impacted by expense vs capital spending. General Manager of the Kelly Slater Wave Company’s Noah Grimmett said,
“This program allows Kelly Slater Wave Company to not only be a pioneer in wave technology, but also in supporting sustainable power initiatives as we act environmentally through an alternative to installing solar panels and fulfill our vision of building the best man-made wave.”
Check out all the details of the Solar Choice Program at www.pge.com/solarchoice