• Joe Collins

Solar and the Rise of the Florida “Prosumer”

I learned a new word yesterday reading an article in PV Magazine, a popular solar energy publication. The word is “prosumer.” It refers to the idea that homeowners and businesses with solar panels will both produce and share energy as well as consume it.

The growth of rooftop solar will help make the energy grid more flexible and reliable, because the new prosumer will generate energy at the point it’s being used, which will decentralize the grid and make it more efficient, not to mention environmentally friendly. Prosumers will replace the need for large centralized power plants that have historically produced energy for everyone.

Who doesn’t love the idea of solar rooftops on houses and businesses, solar canopies over parking lots, electric cars and buses that don’t pollute? Imagine the savings to homeowners and municipalities, local job creation, and environmental benefits for all.

Solar Potential in Florida

Well the question is how do we make that happen? It turns out that Florida, according to NREL (National Renewable Energy Laboratory), has the third largest rooftop solar power potential in the country behind only California and Texas. And Google’s Project Sunroof estimates that 92% of the roughly 4.8 million roofs in Florida could generate solar power. So there you go. That’s a great start to creating a whole bunch of prosumers.

So even though solar still accounts for less than 4% of the total state electricity generation according to SolarReviews, there is hope for us Floridians.

Florida could do some things to incentivize prosumers like allowing Power Purchase Agreements, which enable entities other than utilities to sell electricity. And it would help if some utilities didn’t require their rooftop solar customers to purchase insurance for solar power systems, which adds to the overall cost of a system.

But on the bright side, Florida has net metering, which allows solar homes and businesses to be compensated fairly when they send excess energy back to the grid. Also, there’s no sales tax on solar equipment, and Florida does not tax solar arrays even though solar adds value to your property.

Utility Scale Solar is Increasing in the Sunshine State

Right now, some home owners and communities in other states are criticizing the development of large solar arrays and arguing that these “seas of glass” are spoiling the rural landscapes and imperiling wild life. Many folks are opposed to large, utility scale solar centers covering acres of scenic countryside. They are searching for better ways to protect the environment and reach carbon neutral energy goals.

In Florida, Florida Power & Light and Duke Energy, the two largest Investor Owned Utilities in the state, are developing massive utility scale solar projects covering acres of untouched land. This green energy will be added to their fossil fuel based electricity generation. Ironically, these solar projects might lead to a future clash with renewable energy advocates, conservationists, and Florida environmental groups, many of whom, as you would guess, are solar advocates.

Floating solar panel arrays are another solar trend. They are still an interesting novelty right now since there are so few of them, and they are smaller than land based solar centers, but these might become controversial in the future, if they grow in size and deployment.

Maybe the best idea is to put solar panels on buildings, brown fields and open land where it is appropriate and not detrimental to the environment. Solar canopies could be built in multi use areas that promote pollinator friendly vegetation; fields where livestock can graze between rows of solar panels and shelter from the heat; and farmsteads where farmers can grow crops that need shade.

The Role of Government

Incentivizing homeowners and businesses to add rooftop solar through legislation could help increase the race toward 100% renewables as long as it is voluntary and not a mandate.

However, some federal initiatives like solar tariffs haven't been very successful in advancing renewable energy objectives. These punitive trade measures, designed to benefit a few solar manufacturing companies, have stifled solar growth and won’t help us reach our ambitious national energy goals.

In fact, maybe the best thing to do in terms of promoting solar growth at the federal level is just to have the government get out of the way. Let the free market do its thing, like respond to customer demand, encourage private sector investment, and efficiently manage solar equipment production and supply chains. That might create the most jobs, and provide the least expensive option for prosumers, which would help us transition to a clean energy economy more quickly.

There are many different ways to deploy solar energy. Some are better than others. As the demand for electricity grows locally and globally due to population growth, electric car adoption, widespread use of air conditioning, and other electric appliances, we need to plan for a future that embraces the idea of the “prosumer.” Everyone who has the ability to produce their own energy should start to think about making that a reality, and before you know it, it will be the norm.

Joe Collins is the owner of CIE Solar Energy, LLC.

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