Much Ado about Electrons
Can building-scale batteries bolster Connecticut's fledgling solar industry?
Originally published in the issue of The Quinnehtukqut.
For almost a year, the ink has been dry on Public Act 18-50, also known by its more phlegmatic name, An Act Concerning Connecticut’s Energy Future. With its passage last spring, Connecticut is now on track to walk away from the other forty-two states and territories that have legalized net metering, the popular concept that lets consumers who generate their own electricity sell excess power back to the grid at the same price at which they buy it. Once P.A.18-50 goes into effect, the electric companies’ customers will be forced to sell it back at less than the retail rate (although current residential solar owners will be grandfathered into net metering through 2039).
Stephen Hartmann of the Danbury-based installer, Ross Solar Group, said to the Danbury News-Times:
Homeowners need to be aware that [the repeal is] premature and unnecessary — and based on faulty logic. […] People should be concerned about net metering going away — it’s going to significantly diminish the value of what a solar-power energy system brings to a homeowner.
In the new legislative session, P.A. 18-50 faces support and backlash, new and old, from members of both parties, making it tough to predict whether or not it will be amended or repealed before the state's 2,200 jobs in the solar industry are affected.
In the meantime, though, the Connecticut General Assembly’s Energy and Technology Committee has already taken a look at in-home batteries. These home energy storage devices are made by many companies worldwide, from small startups to tech giants; the better-known models include LG's RESU, sonnenBatterie's Eco Compact, and Tesla, Inc.'s home-sized Powerwall and commercial-grade Powerpack. These large batteries charge off of a home’s solar panels during the day in order to power the home at night, with the added benefit of providing backup power in case of a brownout or blackout. (Connecticut does not allow time-of-day power pricing, but in other states that let utilities vary their electricity prices during the day, the battery can charge during off-peak hours and discharge during peak hours to reduce the homeowner’s electric bill. This makes them an attractive investment even for homeowners without solar panels.)
This legislative session, Rep. Jonathan Steinberg (D-136) introduced H.B. 6237, An Act Requiring a Study of Energy Storage Projects and Distributed Generation in the State to call for "a study of energy storage projects and distributed generation". In a supporting opinion, the company Solar Connecticut noted that more than one-third of people shopping for solar panels were also interested in a house-scale battery, and felt a completed study could help DEEP make better energy policy decisions in the future. Regrettably, there has been no news about this bill since a February public hearing.
Whether you're looking at a battery for smartwatch, cell phone, electric car, or a house; the technology is improving while prices are dropping. While net metering in Connecticut appears to be in hospice, in-home batteries are already providing tangible benefits to homeowners with or without solar panels.
- Public Act 18-50: An Act Concerning Connecticut’s Energy Future
- News-Times (April 6, 2019): As key solar perk hits sunset, CT grapples with net metering
- 2019 H.B. 6237: An Act Requiring a Study of Energy Storage Projects and Distributed Generation in the State
- Supporting opinion from Solar Connecticut