Rooftop Solar Saves Everyone Money. Here's Why.

Rooftop Solar Saves Everyone Money. Here's Why.

The utility monopoly often claims, falsely, that solar energy is a culprit to high electricity prices.

Although the claim is absurd, it is sometimes repeated by otherwise intelligent, credentialed people. Consider these two recent headlines from the San Jose Mercury News and Forbes Magazine respectively:

“Don’t Have Solar? You’re paying more because others do, UC Berkeley prof says” [1]

“If Solar And Wind Are So Cheap, Why Are They Making Electricity So Expensive?” [2]

The claim goes like this: People who choose solar pay less to the utility because they need less electricity from the grid. But because the costs of running the grid stay the same, the remaining non-solar ratepayers now have the pay more. On top of that, net metering forces those same ratepayers to pay even more to the solar users. Double whammy!

The truth: Rooftop solar reduces the cost of running the electricity grid. That saves ratepayers real money.

When more people in the community generate their own energy at homes and businesses, there is less need to build expensive new power plants, transmission lines and other infrastructure. Those savings are huge for everyone.

Last month, state officials in charge of managing California’s electricity grid cancelled 18 electricity transmission projects and revised 23 others for the coming year, saving ratepayers  $2.6 billion over the next year. The agency, California Independent System Operating Corp. (CAISO), credited rooftop solar owners for the move, saying:

“The changes were mainly due to changes in local area load forecasts, and strongly influenced by energy efficiency programs and increasing levels of residential, rooftop solar generation.” [3]

Here are some individual examples of canceled projects.

  • PG&E, one of the nation’s biggest utilities, recently cancelled 13 transmission projects saving ratepayers $192 million.[4]
  • In early 2016, California state regulators vetoed a contract extension for an aging gas power plant because rooftop solar had already filled the energy needs for the utility, SoCal Edison. [5]
  • In Fresno, the rapid growth of solar has California officials reconsidering the need for a major new transmission line, which is projected to cost between $115 and $145 million to build. [6]

This is a relatively new and welcome trend. The LA Times has documented how the utilities and state regulators ignored warnings for years about the coming solar tide, instead spending billions of ratepayer dollars on excessive infrastructure. [7]

It is great that regulators are finally recognizing that yes, rooftop solar is an important way to reduce the need for that expensive infrastructure. They are seeing that, in fact, generating, storing and sharing electrons from your neighborhood is cheaper than doing the same all the way from Idaho.

In contrast, the utility monopoly continues to perpetuate this anti-rooftop solar myth, while lobbying to kill efforts to expand rooftop solar and incentivize more battery storage. The latter is particularly hypocritical and infuriating, since getting more people to have batteries that store their extra energy for use at night would take even more pressure off the grid, reduce those costs even further for ratepayers (and allow consumers to be entirely self-sufficient if they choose to do so).

It makes you wonder: is it ratepayers that the utilities care about, or simply preserving their monopoly?

July 24, 2018 update: This Twitter post from a Boston energy management official lays out a detailed case study of what we're talking about here. It's set in New England, but applicable for California.


[1] San Jose Mercury News, 2018

[2] Forbes Magazine, 2018

[3] Read the entire 350 page CAISO report here.

[4] Greentech Media article

[5] CA Public Utilities Commission ruling

[6] Fresno Bee, 2016

[7] LA Times, 2017