I was once scolded by an energy wonk and political progressive at a semi-public forum for suggesting people “hoard electrons”. That is, instead of being grid connected, there seemed to me to be situations where becoming as independent of the electrical grid as possible with solar and storage was the right thing to do.
Now, don’t get me wrong: While, to me, the ideal situation is a highly distributed, decentralized grid, I expect and hope people can and will share with their neighbors, towns, and regions. I just don’t see a centralized, ISO-NE-managed grid as having a future.
However, while I think people should share with their neighbors and the present-day grid, they should not be penalized for doing so. Unfortunately, this is what is being done in some regions in the United States and the recent rate proposal by Massachusetts Eversource does essentially that: It does not return the value of the full benefit to the grid of residential and small commercial PV to the owners of the PV, penalizing them instead. Eversource claims, as all these utilities doing this do, that the PV owners are benefitting from the grid, maintained and paid for by non-PV owners, and, accordingly, should bear a bigger burden of grid costs. This means that rather than one-one net metering, the value returned to owners for generation is less than the cost of consumption. There are plenty of studies indicating the value of solar to the grid is actually more than one-one, and, technically, a PV owner should get compensated more than what they are charged for a kilowatt-hour. (See another, and another, and another.) This benefit varies throughout the day and, so, time-varying rates are the fairest way of assessing costs and assigning benefits. Local utilities whine and complain that such a system is expensive to roll out and they should be compensated and rewarded for doing so. (National Grid appears to be an exception.) Fine, then use some average which can be updated every couple of years.
But, should Eversource or any other utility do this, my answer is that, indeed, people should hoard electrons. If leadership like ISO-NE’s Gordon van Welie can only see a grid-centric zero Carbon electrical system, which is suggested by his claim that such a system is only practical if there is “seasonal storage” available, then the “markets”, which Mr van Welie and others so cherish, should respond in the way markets do, and pursue grid defection at a local level. Perhaps, some day, when ISO-NE or its replacement is kinder to people who have invested capital to create PV sources, subsidized, no doubt by federal and local incentives, they’ll think about reconnecting. Such defection is facilitated and incentivized by a burgeoning set of technical suppliers who are selling to disillusioned grid customers the means whereby they can leave. There are also even turnkey packages available. (See also.) And it’s possible, except in the most extreme cases, to make a sense for defecting most of one’s load off-grid. The extreme cases are rare proposals by utilities to penalize a solar PV residence $20 a month for being grid-tied. (Stupid.) The rationales offered by utilities have been seriously criticized.
Claire Anderson writes in Homepower what it takes to do this. Note that’s a 2015 article, and the price outlook for solar PV and storage batteries has markedly improved since that time.