Rooftop solar was one of home building's "next big things." Now, it stands very possibly as one of the important innovations in home building that may go down in flames because of what changes if it's successful.
Its promise fairly glimmered just as the Great Recession came crashing down on housing during the late middle of last decade. As the downturn took hold, solar's power pierced the gloom in several ways that spread its glow and warmth, including 1) a policy-backed incentive, 2) a home operational efficiency investment, 3) a marketing point of differentiation, and 4) a unifying strategy around which companies could rally for excellence and innovation.
Rooftop solar served these and other goals as its momentum grew during the throes of the Recession. It wasn't for everybody. Some people preferred granite counters and garage door openers to high-performance energy.
But what solar did was subversive, to the point where its citizen customers won't likely take nonsense from utility-lobbies and flight-reflex state and local officials and regulators lying down.
Solar gives its customers two key benefits for the cost. One is control (which includes savings on monthly energy bills). The other is purpose (which includes a sense that by choosing solar, one lives in relation to one's dashboard-guided production and consumption energy levels).
Saving money and the planet is a powerful one-two punch of motivation among at least a portion of consumers, and it's probably strong enough to have factored into why at least some opted for new homes, in new communities.
What solar revealed as it gained traction is that homeowners want to interface with their homes. They want a cause-and-effect relationship with at least some of its operations. To some degree, it would be hard to imagine the success of Nest--which is about how residents interface with the heat and air conditioning and ventilation systems of their homes to achieve comfort--without the active interactive model solar systems introduced to residences in scale over the past 10 years.
On the surface, uncertainty and doubt may cloud the future of specific rooftop solar business models. New York Times writers Diane Cardwell and Julie Creswell chronicle the challenges companies like Lyndon Rive-led SolarCity and its smaller competitors face as Nevada and other states cut generous net metering rate systems for existing and future solar customers.
Cardwell and Creswell write:
It is local rate policies, like the sharp cut in net metering credits in Nevada, that pose a threat to SolarCity and its ilk. The reductions, supported by the main utility, NV Energy, a subsidiary of Warren E. Buffett’s company Berkshire Hathaway, apply to existing contracts as well as to new ones, raising worries that customers will try to renegotiate or break them.
And here, in BusinessWeek, writer Noah Buhayar, profiles SolarCity's big critical tipping point moment of truth as a clash of titans, Warren Buffet's NV Energy vs. Elon Musk's SolarCity.
In just a decade, solar has gone from an enviro’s dream to a serious lobby that will be fighting these kinds of battles nationwide for years. More than half of U.S. states were studying or changing their net-metering policies in the third quarter of 2015, according to the North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center. Just about everywhere solar companies go, the industry has stirred up popular support.
On Friday, Nevada's Public Utilities Commission relented, somewhat, voting to transition rooftop solar customers--new and existing--to new rate plans over 12 years, but not 20. That's a blow to solar advocates who believe the ruling will suppress interest.
But, stay tuned.
Looking at rooftop solar sheerly from the standpoint of innovation, customer-benefit-driven innovation, there's a sense that there's no real going backwards on this issue. Jobs, dollar savings, and a purpose suggest to us that rooftop solar may face some big challenges, but dealing with them head-on will be worth it for builders, developers, and solar players who do.
This article was originally featured on our sister site, BUILDER >>