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Electricity produced at or near the point where it is used is called Distributed Generation (DG). Distributed solar energy can be located on rooftops or ground-mounted, and is typically connected to the local utility distribution grid. There are a wide variety of policies at the federal, state and local level that impact distributed solar and its customers.
Net metering allows residential and commercial customers who generate their own electricity from solar power to sell the electricity they aren’t using back into the grid. Many states have passed net metering laws. In other states, utilities may offer net metering programs voluntarily or as a result of regulatory decisions. Differences between state legislation, regulatory decisions and implementation policies mean that the mechanism for compensating solar customers varies widely across the country.
Solar Rebates & Incentives
Effective direct incentives for solar energy can take a variety of forms depending on the administrative abilities of a given state. Some states have chosen to offer tax credits, others offer up-front rebates administered by state agencies or utilities, and still others offer performance-based incentives that are paid by an agency or utility over time based on kWh production.
Key Principles for Direct Solar Incentive Programs
- Set incentives for payback targets– The incentive levels should be set so that solar system owners recoup their system costs over five-years for commercial customers and ten-years for residential customers. With lower installed costs, cheaper financing, and greater tax benefits, commercial systems can be offered lower incentives than residential systems. Incentives can also be tiered by system size. In order to build a significant market, states with very low energy rates or little sunshine sometimes must offer larger incentives than states with high electricity costs and/or plentiful sunshine.
- Encourage efficient systems design– Where possible, incentives should reward high-performing systems. Direct incentives can be adjusted to encourage systems that maximize peak energy production. A performance-based incentive (PBI) is based on the actual energy production of a system. PBIs inherently incentivize optimal system design and encourage active, ongoing maintenance.
- Phase out incentives over times– One of the main reasons for enacting solar programs is to jump-start a local solar industry. As the market grows, costs will decline through increased sales volumes and competition. Solar panels are largely commoditized and while declining panel prices reduce the installed costs of solar around the world, developing local installers is still a critical part of building a vibrant solar market. As the installed cost of solar declines, incentives can decline as well.
- Keep it simple– A certain amount of paperwork and verification is necessary and prudent, but burdening solar customers with a difficult incentive application process or overly prescribing the qualifying conditions can hamper or halt an otherwise effective program.