« 99% Invisible

257- Reversing the Grid

2017-05-02 | 🔗

For most people, electricity only flows one way (into the home), but there are exceptions — people who use solar panels, for instance. In those cases, excess electricity created by the solar cells travels back out into the grid to … Continue reading →

This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
This is ninety nine percent. Invisible, I'm roman Mars in the late eighty hundreds as more and more people began to have electric lights in their homes. The utility companies began looking for a good way to measure how much electricity each customer was using actually weight. When Thomas Edison built the first electric power stations, there were no. Lectured meters in people's homes. So he built a man Leafy, based on how many light bulbs they had, but SAM Evans Brown of New Hampshire, public radio that billing pearls Bob System wasn't great, so people came up with a meter that did the job well enough. The same basic media that most of us in the? U S have in our homes today and the wayward this is when the electricity comes into your house, a little dial turns forward and shows how much you ve used and even the original designers never really intended for this to happen. If you send electricity back into the grid, the dial turns backward.
To show electricity leaving your house or, if you like me, there's? No electricity leaving your house it's only coming in, but if you're like SAM who has solar panels on his roof. Electricity is leaving the house in going back into the grid, yeah that's because my solar panels create more energy than I can use that excess energy goes back into the grid and out to my neighbours and in my state, New Hampshire, I get credited for that extra energy. I create its practice called net metering and for a while it was totally not controversial, but now it is There are huge political battles being fought over. This salmon is colleagues at New Hampshire. Public radio actually did a whole episode of their podcast outside in about net metering because they are even prettier than we are and Emma
we're just gonna hit after them. Now so here's SAM and in a little bit you hear the voices of his colleagues Maureen Mig Murray and tailor gloomy So before we get into the controversy over net metering, I want to go back and introduce you to the guy who accidentally started at all. His name is Stephen Strong, son. Energy license plate appropriately, we ve got plug in so like me, Stephen is in energy, nerd he's a guy who, when Toyota came out with the previous, he got his engineers to hack the thing it's a key diskiver we're looking at here is battery pack the shoe horned into the spear tire. So he he and his engineers made a plug in previous emitted years before the car companies have also Yoda went bananas from we told them. We were doing so way back before he started messing around with prices, Stephen founded, a company called. So
learn design associates. This was at a time when solar power, besides being some on satellites in outer space, wasn't really a thing yet when was this again is the seventies yet mid seventies? It was a heck of a hard wait. A minute Can you see living in the Seventys and eightys and the Ninetys? So Stephen strong? Is this hard charge ready to drop everything and get his hands dirty kind of guy, and he kicked off, would eventually became kind of. Revolution in the way a lot of people are getting their energy? He did it by putting solar panels on an apartment building for people with modest incomes, their search allows its huge huge when one burning burning. Why do so this building looks kind of like a big college dorm, its brick and pretty unremarkable grass was to drive this way too. Story, but when it was built on its roof, there was
This massive array of solar panels when the first of its kind, this was: one of the largest solar thermal systems in New England handed met, something like eighty percent the annual hot water requirement, but this was this was like the early days resources. A solar thermal is just like heating. How watered and make electricity they to solar thermal uses. Solar panels, but all it does- is heat up hot water, and that was that was cool, so Furthermore, like this simple, is technology on the planet it so so, let's get this big box, and on the inside, you got some tubes that are coloured. Black and you put water in it or some sort of coolants refrigerant in there and the sun shines on the black tubes and he sat up and then you can circulate that back into a tank and and that's all it was that I feel like I could come up with that that's like on the level technology wise of like using a magnifying glass due to like set a piece of paper on fire weight that the solar panel Carter put on the White House where those this
we're thermal once yeah stupid that he was just eating water at the windows yeah in any case it was mostly solar thermal panels up there, but Stevens. John convinced the developer to. Let him install a couple of solar photovoltaic panels too we will take panels are the ones that actually make electricity and at that There were a brand new technology issue. Technology was available. We were employed it, but there was this question How should I do the wiring wait? What do you mean So whenever the sun is shining, obviously the electricity will go towards running all the stuff in the building. You no water pumps, how water heaters whatever, but what happens when the sun's not shining or would happen if the sun is shining and there's nothing going on in the building. So when he decided to do was just configure it so that one No son. The building would work just like any other building it would by electricity from the utility company and the little dials on the electric meter would roll forward I've kilowatt hours
kilowatt hours? Twenty? Third- forty fifty I don't know what a what It's a lot of water you don't have to know what I want is or but a kilowatt hour. Is you don't have to know? All you need to know is that it's the measurement for electricity use to getting back to even solar panels what he did. Tat no one had ever done before was too wired up so that if the sun, was shining in the building. Wasn't using any energy the, use electricity would flow out into the grid, The little dial on the meter would just role in the other direction backwards. Fifty forty thirty! Twenty ten, which means, at the end of the month, one comes to check the meter. The owners of the building would pay for whatever the dial said, so if they use sixty kilowatt hours, but they put in forty, the dial would say twenty and it would only pay for twenty and worked through is just
it was intuitive. It was almost like that just the way should be it's like were producing electrons, that are justice. Valuable someone provided by the coal plants where the heavy residual fuel oil driven plant Why shouldn't they receive the same value, and so I have just made sense any did you talk to the utility at all. Do you show them your design say this? What we're gonna do know the developers? Don't you don't worry about that? just get the technical side of this done in and get it it working and well we'll take care that we're gonna be innovation. With the utility I turned out, there They didn't say anything about the system to the utility, purposely end and told me at the time There's one thing in your career that you should learn early on: that is it's easier to ask forgiveness than it is to ask permission in that.
Ladies and gentlemen, is how we got a little policy called net metering. Is that so why wouldn't he tell them? Well, does uncharted waters, he didn't know the utility would say and he's in one He told no so net metering, it's the net of when the media this forward and goes backward its wasn't between yet net as in net verses. Rose? I mean the only reason that it was design. That way is because that is what the meteor could do. That little spinning disk electric meter, all I can do is been Ford and backwards. So that's what they used. It was well and truly the first one that was connected to the utility grid outside the fence of a government laboratory. Ok, we puts in the solar panels honour of this building. What what happens so the utility coming They were actually find with the whole thing. In fact, they praised Stevens Innovation, but this panels in last, very long they actually blew off the building. In the first year,
they include minor, whatever the third there wasn't. She says it gets windy, so not terribly auspicious start, but what it did was kick off some intense interest in this idea that solar could serve needs of a home but also produce electricity for the grid. Like a tiny part time power plants and this concept of homeowner as our plants is actually important in thinking about how people with solar panels on their homes will be paid for the power there producing, because big established power plant cell power to the utility companies at a cheaper wholesale cost. Then the utility companies can sell their. Where's, that power to hire retail rate, so they can make profit and pay for their costs so the question becomes. Do people with solar panels did they become like many power plants? Should they be paid the lower wholesale rate or the higher retail rate, are they like asked co or are they like mom and pop his out is that did I
Others analogy. I think that's pretty good. In any case, states eventually started passing laws about this very question, and that was all through the Eightys and Ninetys and for the most part, these laws said that the utility companies should pay people the higher retail rate because its Ben saved, put solar panels in your house, and this would incentivize, solar and eventually forty. One states pass laws allowing people to get this higher retail rate for net metering and utility companies at the time they didn't put up much of a fight about it yeah, but the utility companies at this point there, like dancing with the devil, made only realise it yeah, and nobody, Nobody had any reason to say: oh, this might not be a good idea, because solar was just like this weird thing that probably was never going to be cost effective, and and that's how it was for a bunch of years until suddenly, solar started to get cheap
for decades? Solar power was so expensive and unwieldy. If you could afford it and this changing in mind. Bending Lee Rapid Pace, solar, related stocks rallied on Wednesday, on the news that Congress plans to extend a solar investment tax credit by- I've years story, MID, two thousand a bunch of really ambitious, well financed company, start saying: hey we can make some are you doing this, and so from two thousand and nine two doesn't ten the amount of solar and you have doubled it doubled again. From twenty tend to twenty eleven doubled again from twenty eleven twelve thirteen and from twenty thirteen to today, it's on track to triple again, ok, so so what What are these companies doing? That's different like how are they making money what's their model? What they're doing is there, frank people, solar, free, no money down they pay for the cost of the panel
fanxchange they take a chunk of the money that you would earn by producing power, and so, if you had someone come and knock on your door and say, hey want to be part of the next renewable energy era, and you can have solar panels on your roof. Right now is not going to cost you any money and we're going to give you a discount on your power bill. I said yeah and that business model is made possible by net metering, by getting this higher retail rate for the power people? are producing with solar and I think, it's fair to say, it, the utility companies, basically did not see this coming and so now they're starting to push back. They don't want to be paying the retail rate. They think people generating electricity with solar should get the wholesale rate just like a power plant would so where, where the fights happening now than where it, where the really high profile fights overnight metering? Well, so the obvious The Arizona is the number one. So that's Christie, Schonberg who works for this industry new site called utility. I that tracks all this stuff. She points out that way:
net metering battles in California and of course, you have Nevada, which has basically become the by word- for what you don't wanna see. Nevadas fight got really crazy, huge huge blow back from all sides. Box of life. Basically, we have celebrity easier presidential candidates, ok, get involved in state or local issues other than my own sleep, but I find it rather incredible that public utilities, commission here in Havana, as beta decision, which makes it harder for people doing solar panels re who then does Bernie Sanders here. Joe gauge railway crazy, obscure policy? That's getting tons of attention, Hillary Clinton.
Talked about it when she went to Nevada and talk to local newspapers there, their fight- and I were CS, main Vermont, New York, Utah, Hawaii and, of course, right here in New Hampshire. It's about what's happening all over the country state by state. The local electric company is pushing back and all the solar installers fighting against the utilities, and each state has like its own local flavour to this argument about it. But I still don't understand What about this fight like? Why would me having solar panels on my roof? Why would it make the utility companies, like so angry it just money. Well, yeah, of course it's about money, but whose money the utility companies want to re frame. This argument, so that is not just about their interests, but it's about the interests of the people who don't have solar panels. So ok, here I talked to Michael Harrington, who here New Hampshire, he's to be one of the guys who regulates electric companies its ache. Taking from the not some people that have not so much in giving it. The people have more
say I was retired school teacher in Manchester living in an apartment. There's no way, I'm gonna put solar panels on their department roof and get any benefit from metering, but I'm gonna have to pay for it, because some guy in Bedford Issues bet, for example, get nothing did were prom with death Bedford if you're not from New Hampshire is a wealthy suburb of Manchester, which is our biggest city, but he might have a four thousand square foot House and he says boy. If I do this net metering thing in five or six years, are we getting basically free electricity? So it's it's! It's a reverse distribution of wealth. In the way we normally do things in United States, and I You think that's right, I get it so it's like someone ultimately has to pay, and if all these people who are people of aids were homeowners, have solar panel I was the cost of the other utility will go up, and that means that people who are renting or anything like that big screwed, because I want solar panels on my house- and that's me this is how rate structures, where cried a utility is a big company that invests a tie.
Take all of their customers. Poles and wires in energy to send across those poles and wires, and then they take all the customers and they divide the cost of that up between all of them and they spread it around and under that business if say, fifty percent of the people in the? U S wet solar and started that metering. A big chunk of the Mai either there saving is money, that's not going towards paying for the poles and wires. So this is the art against net metering, which, as you are It was a me because I actually do have solar panels on I roofing you're, scaring me because I dont screwing, you yeah me putty solar panels on my roof cause you money, the House am what the Hell SAM except the problem, is. We're not a hundred percent sure that's true problem? I gotta do something up cause. So this is another former regulator cliff below? Is that he's the one New Hampshire, who wrote the first initial net metering la hearing attention to it, and he says they even then there
Is this intuition like this feeling that may be are actually benefits to solar. So the few, and was solar might be higher than average and in value and- and I think the evidence is proven that out over the years that solar tends to produce a higher than average price hours so quickly is literally saying the exact opposite thing from Michael here. And he saying that me please, Campaigns on my roof actually seems you guys money. This is a pickle. I dont know. If I believe I don't think you get only gets going to save enough money, so so Oh, let's first, maybe dig into why it might be. Even though we pay the same amount for every unit of energy on our electorate? Bills- all alike? plans are not created equal in Rio quality. Every five minutes, there's a new auction for energy. So every five minutes we ve got a new price for energy. When demand is low prices are low and they can actually go negative. Like power plants will pay us so that You don't have to shut down, usually that's at night, and when
man is high. Prices can be insane like a hundred times higher than normal and again the utilities take all of us. Costs the average them all out and they divide them by their customers. So the thing is solar panels or producing at times a day that really high value Sonny. Pod does easily times where, where electricity, expensive and that's when you're, producing solar power and and so by feeding back into the grid, were cutting usage so much that it that it lowers the price during this peak times exactly and so cliff billows arguing these people are actually you know even no they're getting paid more than a regular power plants there actually getting paid. Less than the energies worth, and that means that there's savings for every solar panel you put on the grid, I would read, but that's only true up in total point right. I mean if you suddenly tip it, and it's goes from twenty percent of the population on solar panel to five thousand two hundred and seventy, then I'm sorry cliff your math doesn't work out. That is exactly right
she go, wherefore MIT media, so that people do have idea. Is about how to solve all this which we can talk about or we could not give us? What is your favorite or what the most interesting to me is from a guy called Don Creek. I do think that the way that we pay for electricity is just dumb fleeting question. Yes, It is, it is clearly inappropriate, in today's technological age. To contain need a charge. People the same price for electricity, twenty four seven, when the cost of providing people electricity fairies. Sometimes, by orders of magnitude, depending on the time of day and the time of year and the grid conditions that apply so is it not. Then by extension, also kind of dumb to not very the price that we're paying
source for generating solar power from the roofs. I agree with that is well Don is states. Consumer advocate his job is to watch out for people who pay electric bills so basically his boss to be keeping costs down and looking out for the little guy. It simply isn't fair to take a retired school teacher living on a fixed income in Manchester and force that customer to pace subsidies to a wealthy hedge fund manner, there are living in Bedford who has Mc Mansion that's covered in solar panels. Is there? Is there some. Actual retired school teacher in Manchester in some actual hedge fund manager in Bedford, because Michael Harrington gave me be exact same and how had she not nothing. I'm aware of their totally. But where are those people, but
they mean Don Crease, also thinks that this cost shifting thing is a problem, and so this is what Don Crease wants to do. It's called a time of use. Rate, as in you get paid more if you're solar is going during those high price times like later in the afternoon, but you also pay more, if you're, using more energy in the afternoon, and so to make this really simple. Every day there be a different price, a higher price between two p m and eight p m, which is when electricity price here- and this is cracking opened the door, two radically different way to pay for energy. Instead of abiding by this crazy illusion that every electron is worth, the same amount is acknowledging. That when demand is high, electricity gets expensive and maybe we should Let people know that. I think that we can provide that more at four.
Currently updated information to consumers. So this is Jessica, Transect she's up SL energy stays at MIT. I think that that should be possible here, but she wants to take it even a step farther member. There is constantly a new price for electricity every five minutes. And she thinks we should have a display in our houses. It says here is the price of energy right now, like something. It literally follows like the five minute: every five minutes, the market where'd you get a new price. Well, maybe hourly, you know, I think five minute five minutes might be a bit too much. But but our early life is so, if, if you ever find a utility that wants to do that, I'm I'm ready to sign up I'll, be in the pilot. I think I'll be fine. Ok, great I'll, let you know I'll, let you know next, I act I find that really interesting, because I had no idea that varied at all and it varies widely, and you know I think, twice about turning the lights which on, if there is a flashing red a price alert or something yes right,
now there are some really important caveats, this approach for one, rolling out new meters everywhere would be expensive, and this would be a very big may be very different. A change in the way utilities operate but for to the markets can be brutal, that their prices that can globally a hundred times the average, which is crazy and that's why even Jessica Transit, thinks that they should have a cap and why Don Crease, once this sort of De Claude version of that which is like a slightly more expensive period from two to eight p m verses, real, the following the markets, but they both think that it's time we, looked at redesigning the way our electricity is metered because Solar has made everything more complicated. Here's Don crease When you have a net metering started there is that I could have guy in his draw. Yet what do you actually talk to has been really so?
You know that, like he just did it without asking anybody's permission you didn't know. I want to see if my meters gonna run backwards and I just wire my building up and see no and attach too Boston, Edison grid. I want to see what happens and he was right, but but the fact is that it did. You know it wasn't like the commission on Uniform state laws got together and said: let's design a net metering statue, they will promote the development of distributed generation. You know in this. The logical, rigorous way. No, it just happened by accident and now it's everywhere, and so it is high time for everybody to take a look and see what a rational well designed, but a public policy would be, or maybe it will just go back to building by the label. Let's do it Miranda reduce my number of light bulbs. Again I can handle them very cheap
Ninety nine percent invisible was produced this week by sin, Evans, Brown and Logan, Shannon with from Maureen Mc Murray, Taylor Quinn me Jimmy duty, whereas in Mali, Donna here alone Your version of the story aired on the pod cast outside in from New Hampshire. Public radio go isn't some their other episodes, their great did you nerd stuff, just like we do and they make it really fun. You're gonna, like it special thing this week to Bob Johnstone, who wrote the book switching to solar and hostile world. You can see issues of that infamous first grid tied solar apartment building on our website. Ninety I dot org music. This week was from Tsar Jason, Leonard glued on sessions. Paddington bear ok, a gloomy and Sean Rio, the outside the music is by break master cylinder ninety nine percent of visible is Delaney Hall, Emmett Fitzgerald, Kurt Karstadt turn Massa, Katy, mingle, Sean Rio, a region men Sharif, uses and me roman Mars. This peace was
for our used by Katy and mixed pies. We are directive. Ninety one point: seventy w in San Francisco and produced on radio row in beautiful, downtown, Oakland, California, we often dont think of winter as a time of growth or creation. But if you think about it, it's the perfect time to greet your own website. Cooped up you thinkin about being productive and now square space can help you do it with squares. Bates can take your cool ideas. You ve creative content, your services, goods and you can turn them into a beautiful website in just a few clicks. Does it because there is to use template.
Created by world class designers, and then you have the ability to customize the look and feel in the different settings for your own needs. For example, my side, Roman Marston com and made with square space the landing page features a close up of meeting into a microphone and ass, my my very handsome beard, but if I should ever shave it, I dont have to wait for my web guy to change the photo. I can do it myself and maybe the next vote. I will feature my soulful eyes and where the pages of also picked out some wife apron episodes of ninety nine percent of visible to share and the audio is convening Lee him bad it even on mobile. Try yourself, good squares, based outcomes, thus invisible for a free trial, and when you re the launch, use ie offer code invisible to save ten percent off your first purchase of a website or domain.
Ninety nine percent, invisible supported by better help online counselling, I'm sure you like me, no alot of people on cancelling or are in need of counselling or maybe even counselling yourself and when the biggest challenges I am not being able to carve out even an hour I a week to deal with challenges like stress sleep, grief and relationships with better help. You can connect privately with a councillor through phone in video calls or even text in Chad. Better help offers licence councillors who specialise in issues including depression or anxiety, get help on your own time,
your own pace and at an affordable rate. Ninety nine percent invisible listeners we'll get ten percent of their first month with discount code, invisible, that's better help, dot, com, slash invisible! Why not get help better help dot com? Slash invisible, your local police probably receive a hundred calls a night from broker, alarms and majority the time they have no idea of their false alarms or if they are real, it could be a crime or it could be. You going downstairs for midnight, snack and setting off the motion sensor, but simply safe home security is different. If there's a break in simply save as real video to tell please whether there is an actual crime and then they have the evidence to back it up, and they can tell them where the intruder is an what they're doing, and that means please dispatch up to three
in fifty percent, faster than for other burglar alarms. You can set it up yourself with no tools needed or they can do it for you and has only fifty cents. A day would know contracts visit, simply safety coms. Last nine nine you'll get free shipping in a sixty day risk free trial. You got another, lose go now and be sure to go to simply saved our complex nine nine. So they know that our show is at you that simply saved outcome. Slash nine nine. You can find a show in joint discussions about the show on facebooking twinning at Roman Mars and the show at ninety I org or an instagram tumblr, and have a nice already too, but we release at least two articles about design and architecture every week on our website It's ninety, nine being done radio too.
Transcript generated on 2020-02-14.