Solar More Affordable in 5-10 Years

Quick question. Your state has good sunshine, lots of open rooftops, and the cost of solar energy has been falling by 10% per year. Do you think it will take 13 years to double the 10 megawatts (MW) of installed solar power?

Yes, if you’re the largest corporate utility in my state, and willfully ignoring the economic trend. But ‘no’ if you make decisions based on data, because the price of unsubsidized solar electricity will undercut most utility retail electricity prices within a decade, enabling 200 times more solar (4,400 MW) than found in this utility’s plans.

That’s just one utility’s wake-up call in a new report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), Commercial Rooftop Revolution, and it’s far from the only one. By 2016, over 100,000 MW of unsubsidized rooftop solar will able to match grid electricity on price. Within 10 years, it will be 300,000 MW, enough to provide 10% of the nation’s electricity. This affordable solar future presents a stark challenge to traditional utility planning and a clarion call for better electricity policy.

Regardless of their predisposition toward solar power, utilities, regulators, and policy makers need to recognize that there’s a revolution in electricity systems coming soon. Solar will become so affordable in the next 5-10 years that as many as 38 million homes and businesses will elect to produce their own power more cheaply from unsubsidized solar rather than buy it from their utility. That means policies that limit distributed generation will have to change: net metering limits must rise, permitting must be simplified, archaic “15% rules” will have to be driven by data not speculation.

The forthcoming revolution in solar power promises more change in the next 10 years than utilities have faced in the last 100. And they had best get ready.

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