For the past few months, SolarCity has been warning that utilities must adapt to growing demand for renewable storage, or risk getting left behind.
“There will be some amount of strife for existing utilities, particularly ones heavy into fossil rules,” Musk said at a panel earlier this year. “There will be bit of a hardship for them. But we have no choice. We have to decide if we’re going to have clean, sustainable energy or not and if we decide want good future…and the only good future is one with [clean] energy.”
Goldman Sachs’ clean tech analyst Brian Lee has interpreted these kinds of comments this as a signal that SolarCity is aiming for “grid defection” — whereby customers would create self-sufficient energy systems on their property.
This morning, SolarCity sought to bury the hatchet with utilities.
In a new note this morning, SolarCity co-founder and CTO Peter Rive, cousin of company chair Elon Musk, said utilities have an important place in SolarCity’s rollout of storage systems.
While there is tension between utilities and companies like SolarCity, we work with them every day to connect our solar power systems, and there’s potential for much greater synergy,” he writes. “In fact, batteries should power that synergy. One of the more polarising ideas going around is that battery storage will lead to mass defections from the grid. Needing only their solar and their batteries, the story goes, Americans will simply cut the cord. While this is technically feasible, SolarCity has no interest in this scenario.
In an exclusive interview with BI, Rive clarified his stance. “There’s this misconception that the reason why SolarCity is developing this technology is to remove customers from the grid,” he said. “The truth is quite far from that. The reason we’ve developing storage is that clean solar, with reasonably priced storage, can lower the overall price of energy, especially when it’s in the hands of grid operators.”
Rive said utilities remain best suited to regulating load and generation capability on their grids, and that SolarCity’s technologies can serve as “tools” to help lower costs and smooth out demand imbalances. “The key overarching point is that the benefits of solar inverters and storage is massive, especially in the hands of grid operators,” he said.
SolarCity’s statement comes as the California Public Utilities Commission clarified how utilities should price the cost of connecting SolarCity’s units to their grids. SolarCity had recently hammered California’s three major energy service providers for seemingly dragging their feet and overcharging on installation.
“As far as we can tell, utilities are generally in agreement” with the ruling Rive said. “A lot has happened in the past week or so.” He did not comment on how soon utilities will begin speeding up their connections.
In the blog post, Rive announced he’s created a Grid Engineering Solutions department designed to “to help solve the challenges preventing the shift from the grid that we currently have, to the grid that we need.”
The grid is not going anywhere.