Solar bill of rights

Net Metering

SEIA’s Resch champions net metering, NREL/MIT study examines PV production costs from the bottom up, Colorado report shows economic impact of national labs

There’s a small array of solar leaders who could be said to be among the most recognizable “faces of the industry.” Rhone Resch is one of them. SEIA’s main man is prominent in the current media mix, both as the guest on the latest Solar Power World “Solar Speaks” podcast and as the author of a fresh blog on the controversial solar topic du jour–net energy metering (NEM)–that appears on both the association’s site and the well-eyeballed Renewable Energy World portal. The latter post is of particular interest, underscoring SEIA’s strong support for such policies via its “Net Energy Metering Guiding Principles” but more importantly providing a one-stop, cogent explanation of what Rhone characterizes as “a sort of Solar Bill of Rights.”

Noting net metering’s prodigious contribution to the explosive growth in the U.S. solar deployment, Rhone provides as simple and direct a definition of the concept as I’ve seen. “NEM is a credit on your bill that represents the full value of electricity delivered,” he writes. “Think of it this way: surplus energy generated by a home or business system is exported to the electricity grid, allowing a consumer’s meter to spin backwards. This allows the homeowner or business owner to have greater control over their energy use and prices. That’s literally the definition of ‘consumer choice.’” This one’s worth adding to your reading list.

A new study in the Royal Society of Chemistry journal Energy & Environmental Science has garnered coverage from most of the usual solar and renewable media suspects, including Solar Industry, PV Tech, PV-magazine, and REW. Coauthored by a research team from the National Renewable Energy Lab and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, “Assessing the drivers of regional trends in solar photovoltaic manufacturing” [downloadable here] offers bottom-up, dialed-in modeling data that suggest “low labor costs and strong government support” are not the main reasons China has become the center of crystalline silicon PV production. “A detailed analysis of all costs associated with PV production shows that the main contributors to that country’s lower PV prices are economies of scale and well-developed supply chains — not cheap labor,” summarizes the informative MIT press release publicizing the paper’s publication.

An on-point quote in the aforementioned PR comes from someone who had nothing to do with the study but is quite familiar with the solar technology landscape–Paul Basore, director of Hanwha Solar America’s advanced R&D lab. “There is considerable misunderstanding in the global PV industry today about the difference between production cost and sales price, leading to many bad investment decisions,” he notes. “By defining and focusing attention on the minimum sustainable price of PV-module manufacturing, the authors provide a sound basis for decision-making by both industry and government. The challenge of making solar electricity cost-effective for the majority of consumers is bigger than any one company, or any one country. It requires collaboration on a truly grand scale [emphasis added]. The authors do great service to the future of solar by showing that regional biases are of secondary importance when compared to the potential value of scale that can be achieved through global collaboration.”

A report of another sort finds NREL and other federally funded labs in Colorado making significant contributions to the state’s economy. “The report from CO-LABS, a consortium organized to establish Colorado as a global leader in research, technology, and their commercialization, shows that the economic impact of the state’s federally funded laboratories was $2.3 billion and directly employed nearly 8,000 people in 2012,” explained the press release announcing the study. A look at NREL’s contribution shows the lab making a substantial impact when “various expenditure data on operations, construction, and employees, as well as their multiplier effects” are factored in. For FY 2012, “NREL contributed $814.8 million to the state economy and supported direct and indirect employment of 6151 workers,” according to the document.