HughPickens.com writes Diane Cardwell reports in the NYT that many utilities are trying desperately to stem the rise of solar power, either by reducing incentives, adding steep fees or effectively pushing home solar companies out of the market. The economic threat has electric companies on edge. Over all, demand for electricity is softening while home solar is rapidly spreading across the country. There are now about 600,000 installed systems, and the number is expected to reach 3.3 million by 2020, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. In Hawaii, the current battle began in 2013, when Hawaiian Electric started barring installations of residential solar systems in certain areas. It was an abrupt move — a panicked one, critics say — made after the utility became alarmed by the technical and financial challenges of all those homes suddenly making their own electricity. "Hawaii is a postcard from the future," says Adam Browning, executive director of Vote Solar, a policy and advocacy group based in California.
But utilities say that solar-generated electricity flowing out of houses and into a power grid designed to carry it in the other direction has caused unanticipated voltage fluctuations that can overload circuits, burn lines and lead to brownouts or blackouts. "At every different moment, we have to make sure that the amount of power we generate is equal to the amount of energy being used, and if we don't keep that balance things go unstable," says Colton Ching, vice president for energy delivery at Hawaiian Electric, pointing to the illuminated graphs and diagrams tracking energy production from wind and solar farms, as well as coal-fueled generators in the utility's main control room. But the rooftop systems are "essentially invisible to us," says Ching, "because they sit behind a customer's meter and we don't have a means to directly measure them." The utility wants to cut roughly in half the amount it pays customers for solar electricity they send back to the grid. "Hawaii's case is not isolated," says Massoud Amin. "When we push year-on-year 30 to 40 percent growth in this market, with the number of installations doubling, quickly — every two years or so — there's going to be problems."
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