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Clean Power

Palmetto Maps 107 Million Roofs In US While Opposition To Rooftop Solar Grows

As more new solar technologies come available, the utility industry is pedaling furiously to stop them from disrupting their business model.

Life on Earth exists because of the energy it receives from a giant fusion reactor in the sky known as the sun. Without it, all life would cease. The power of the sun creates the winds that blow and the currents that flow through the oceans. It is the basis of all the food we eat. The fossil fuels we use are nothing more than sunlight from long ago converted into another form and stored for millennia underground. The power of the sun is free and is projected to last for a least a billion years or more. All humans have to do is harvest it and put it to work running our factories, our transportation networks, and our built environment.

But Houston, we have a problem. Humanity, in its wisdom, has created utility companies — corporate entities that make money by turning fossil fuels and nuclear energy into electricity and selling it to us for the highest price obtainable. They have converted the greatest public resource of all — the power of the sun — into a profit center for a select few. This is called capitalism and is alleged to be a good thing. But the result is that the utility companies have come to believe that electricity is their private domain.

The idea that ordinary people might harvest solar energy themselves for their own use, or even [gasp!] share it with their neighbors, is anathema to utility companies, which will do anything to stop that from happening so their revenue stream is protected. “It’s our electricity,” they shout, “and we will decide who gets it and how much they will pay for it!” To make sure that is the case, they spend millions of the dollars they receive from their customers to make sure local, state, and federal regulatory agencies are well stocked with people who will protect their business interests at all costs.

Not only that, they are guaranteed a predetermined rate of return on every dollar they invest. It doesn’t matter if an investment turns sour or is rendered obsolete by newer technology. Utility customers are required to pay the freight for failures, even if it takes decades to pay them off.

Palmetto Maps Solar Potential Of 107 Million US Rooftops

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology will figure prominently in the report that follows. Many of its technological breakthroughs lead to new companies formed to bring those technologies to market. One such company is Mapdwell, which developed a tool that provides an instant assessment of any building’s rooftop potential for solar energy production and battery storage, as well as a baseline energy load profile.

Within minutes, it allows customers to see their estimated cost-benefit analysis to determine whether installing solar panels would be worth their investment and to estimate the number of years needed to earn back their financial investment. Mapdwell was subsequently purchased by Palmetto, a company dedicated to accelerating the adoption of clean energy in the United States. In a press release dated January 6, 2022, Palmetto says its Mapdwell division has mapped the solar potential and energy load profiles of over 107 million rooftops in the US — about 75% of all the buildings in America.

“Our deep tech and data capabilities are helping to accelerate the needed shift to clean energy on a societal scale,” said Chris Kemper, CEO of Palmetto. “The accuracy of Mapdwell’s technology helps educate consumers by providing unique and detailed information on their potential investment in solar energy. That information, coupled with our energy-as-a-service platform, provides an easier, faster and more intuitive way for consumers to adopt clean energy.”

Eduardo Berlin, the founder of Mapdwell, added, “Our goal is to map the solar potential and derive energy load profiles of every building across the U.S. and we’re on track to accomplish just that in the very near future.” Mapdwell also licenses this data via application programming interfaces (APIs) to utility companies to further renewable energy initiatives across the country.

Andersen Windows Invests In Ubiquitous Energy

Ubiquitous Energy is another MIT spinoff. Its mission is “a world in which every pane of glass, no matter how large or small, generates renewable electricity from sunlight; dramatically reducing the carbon footprint of houses, commercial buildings, and even small electronic devices, without compromising the clear, vibrant experience expected from traditional glass.” This week, Andersen Windows, one of the largest window and door companies in North America, made a significant investment in UE.

In a press release, the company says Ubiquitous Energy’s technology, “is the only patented and transparent photovoltaic glass coating that harnesses solar power to generate electricity, while remaining almost indistinguishable from traditional windows. The technology provides a clear, natural experience that is expected from traditional windows, but with renewable energy generation that can be used for self-contained, on-board power and smart home functionality, or to offset energy consumption elsewhere. It is a complementary solar power asset that works within a portfolio of other renewable technologies for a larger, cumulative effect.”

Andersen CEO Jay Lund says, “Ubiquitous Energy’s transparent photovoltaic technology is revolutionary and represents a new horizon for the fenestration industry. As America’s premier window and patio door manufacturer, Andersen is excited to support the work of Ubiquitous Energy to bring solar power into homes and commercial buildings through windows and doors, creating new opportunities for energy efficiency, cost savings and smart home integrations that will both delight homeowners and contribute to a healthier planet.”

Can you imagine if every window created electricity from sunlight? Add in some battery storage and many homes and businesses wouldn’t need to buy any electricity from the utility grid. Each would be a self sufficient energy island.

Dropping The Hammer On Rooftop Solar

There’s no way the utility industry can allow that to happen, so it is forking over cubic dollars to politicians to get them to put a stop to this energy independence nonsense. On the very first day of the 2022 legislative session in Florida, the Senate Regulated Industries Committee voted 7-2 to approve Senate Bill 1024. Sponsored by Florida Power and Light, it would limit the ability of homeowners and businesses to offset costs of rooftop solar systems by selling excess power back to the company — an arrangement known as net metering.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, in testimony before the committee, representatives for the solar industry warned that by reducing incentives that reduce the cost of rooftop solar, the bill will eliminate solar installation jobs, stifle innovation, and lead to a reduction in investment in solar energy in the Sunshine State. That’s precisely what happened in Nevada when it curtailed net metering a few years ago. Overnight, the rooftop solar industry in Nevada collapsed as company after company pulled up stakes and left the state.

“What our industry needs is market certainty,” said Justin Vandenbroeck, president of the Florida Solar Energy Industries Association. “There is no current glide path. There is no step down in this policy. It is a straight, take off the legs and fall down.”

The essence of the utility industry argument is that large scale solar farms have a much lower cost of electricity per kilowatt-hour, and that is certainly true. But the real reason utility companies want to eliminate rooftop solar is they own those solar farms, whereas rooftop systems are owned by homeowners and small businesses. Remember earlier when we said the attitude of the utility companies is “It’s our electricity?” They really believe that and will do anything to prevent people getting control over their own electricity because that is a threat to their entire business model.

The California Public Utilities Commission is also considering a similar plan that many say would devastate the rooftop solar industry in that state by imposing burdensome new fees on rooftop solar systems. Utilities and consumer groups say the incentives must be reduced to address a cost shift where customers who don’t have solar end up paying for the green energy subsidies. That last part is a straight-up lie concocted by the utility industry to provide cover for their dastardly plan to destroy the rooftop solar industry.

California governor Gavin Newsom has been lambasted by critics for allowing the PUC proposal to move forward. This week he said there will need to be changes to the plan, but neglected to supply any details about those changes might look like. The long arm of the utility industry reaches all the way into the governor’s office. If you are an advocate for rooftop solar power, don’t expect a lot of help on this issue from Newsom,

A Better Way

Right now this very minute, Tesla is involved in an experiment that could be a harbinger of things to come in the utility industry. It is providing rooftop solar systems to as many as 50,000 mostly low income homes, adding in battery storage, and looping everything together to make a virtual power plant. The local utility gets a stable grid with abundant electrical energy on tap 24 hours a day; homeowners get lower utility bills. That’s the future. Giant generating stations tens or hundreds of miles away from their customers are the past.

That’s the model handed down from the days when Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse were still fighting over whether domestic electricity should be DC or AC (Westinghouse won). The utility industry is fighting tooth and nail to preserve the past. And why not? The system we have guarantees it a government guaranteed rate of return on every investment it makes for 30, 40, 50 years or more.

Why innovate when you can continue to milk the same cow over and over, ad infinitum? In an ideal world, what’s wrong with a stable business model? The answer is, that stable system inhibits the innovative thinking we need to address the challenge of a warming planet in a timely fashion. Some executive’s compensation package shouldn’t have priority over the needs of the human race.

Just as automakers kicked up a fuss and screamed about how nobody wanted an electric car, so too the utility companies refuse to engage with the future for fear that doing so might kill the goose that laid the golden egg. Greed, however, is not good. It will be the number one cause of the extinction of the human race.

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Written By

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his homes in Florida and Connecticut or anywhere else the Singularity may lead him. You can follow him on Twitter but not on any social media platforms run by evil overlords like Facebook.


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