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California rooftop solar policy serves as warning to nation


From pv magazine USA

Residential solar has been navigating difficult waters over the past year, as high interest rates squeeze the savings made available to homeowners. Policy changes, like net energy metering (NEM) 3.0 in California, are pressuring the value proposition to rooftop solar customers, crushing demand in recent months.  

Major publicly traded solar stocks are down over 75% over the past year, and demand in major markets like California has peeled back 40% to 80%, with the damage from NEM 3.0 not fully evaluated yet. 

While California has long served as a model for solar success, that may no longer hold true. In its Roundtables US 2023 live event, pv magazine USA invited a panel of four distributed solar and energy storage experts to offer their view of how the market is responding to policy changes and offered some lessons from California’s recent struggles. 

The participants included Aurora Solar Chief Revenue Officer Carina Brockl, Sonnen Chairman and CEO Blake Richetta, Sunrun Vice President Of Public Policy Walker Wright, and California Solar and Storage Association (CALSSA) Executive Director Bernadette del Chiaro.

Wright began the conversation acknowledging that net metering was instrumental in kickstarting the market in California, which represents roughly 50% of the United States rooftop solar market. It, along with federal policy and California state incentives, was what made rooftop solar such a strong customer value proposition. 

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“The largest renewable energy market in California is distributed [solar],” said del Chiaro. “And yet what we have just done is not just a seismic shift  … we are looking at an 80% drop in sales under the new NBT tariff. The months ahead are looking dimmer, not brighter.” 

While residential solar is currently being hammered by headwinds, there are some forces that could counteract the market retraction. Brockl said though inflation has increased steadily, electricity prices have increased even more, and in some cases at double the rate of inflation. This makes the customer proposition to rooftop solar customers slightly more appealing as a hedge to rising utility rates, even if day one savings are razor-thin or even in the negative. 

Richetta, representing energy storage provider Sonnen, expressed more optimism than his fellow panelists. Sonnen has its roots in Germany, which experienced a similar market contraction in rooftop solar when it phased out its feed-in tariff policy that supported the creation of the market. Since then, the market has recovered, and Germany has among the highest rooftop solar penetration rates in the world. 

“There was a market need to harness solar and harmonize it with grid operations… and to transform an intermittent form of generation to something that is firm and dispatchable,” said Richetta.  

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