By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President,
Illinois Renewable Energy Association
As ComEd customers with solar panels, we received a letter informing us of their recent efforts to jump-start solar in Illinois. As part of a broader set of policies they are proposing a new solar rebate program to reduce the costs of installing solar energy systems. The program would provide a rebate to purchase a “smart invertor” to connect a solar system to the electric grid. A rebate of $1,000 per kW of installed solar capacity would be granted residential customers and $500 per kW for commercial and industrial customers.
With the growth in grid-tied solar systems, utilities desire better communication and coordination between the systems and the existing electric grid. The newly designed “invertors” would allow utilities to use solar power when they need it and shut it off to avoid damaging the grid or the solar system. They would mitigate voltage changes from fluctuating solar generation which could damage utility equipment or residential home appliances. The units would also allow the PV system to continue producing electricity for on-site consumption when grid service goes down. If a system includes battery backup, the “invertor” is capable of charging the batteries from either the grid or PV.
The letter also contained the commitment to ensure current net metering customers that they have a choice of accepting the new solar rebate or continuing with existing net-metering policies.
The proposed new solar rebate program comes at an interesting time. The National Renewable Energy Lab released a new analysis regarding an increased potential of rooftop solar energy providing the nation with almost 40 percent of the US electrical supply. For Illinois the new estimate for rooftop solar is 37 percent of the electrical supply. The estimates do not consider the potential of installing systems on canopies over vacant spaces, parking lots or integrating them into buildings. Such local installations reduce the need for grid upgrades and expansions as the power is used where it is produced.
We are seeing an increasing number of reports calling for meeting all of our energy needs with electricity – electrical, heating and cooling, transportation and industrial processes. They are driven by environmental concerns, including climate change. In their book, All-Electric America, Freeman and Parks call for replacing coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear power with renewable energy and efficiency sources at a rate of 3 percent per year in order to avoid dramatic and long-lasting changes in our climate.
Karen Lynn Allen, an engineer, has pointed out the benefits of going all electric with renewable energy sources as they do not waste two-thirds of the generation energy as heat as existing coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear sources do. While not opposing nuclear power, she reminds us that as existing plants approach the end of their useful lives they will eventually be retired.
With their retirement, the question become whether Exelon fully embraces a renewable energy future and supports the growth of a more decentralized energy system that benefits communities and individual citizens. If we do transition to an all electric energy supply system, there should be many opportunities for utilities, communities and individuals to benefit from the transition.