You might want to re-think our love/hate relationship with utility companies. They’ve changed. They’re far more than you might realize, and it’s likely that they are the key to making solar energy a realistic complement to our growing need for power.

Battery operated

It’s time to stop thinking of the electric company as that place with big generators consuming some kind of non-renewable fuel to create power you pay for. With the addition of solar, these companies have become giant storage batteries, along with the 2-way connections from them to your home or business.

As much as you might want to cut those lines and become self-sufficient, the grid that the utilities own and maintain is crucial for keeping our cities running. The grid, in many ways, represents what’s best about civilization.

We are all better off when we are able to distribute resources. Whether that power was generated from the solar panels on a residential rooftop, or purchased by a utility, it’s more effective and efficient when access to it is tied together.

Or, think about it this way. Let’s say everybody in your neighborhood decided to add solar panels. The power generated must be used or stored. It would make more sense for the neighborhood to connect all their panels so that excess energy from one home could flow to another that needs it. It balances generation and load, and it actually reduces the need for more solar panels. More importantly, though, it reduces the need for the very expensive storage batteries.

And don’t worry, metering would keep track of how much each home generates and uses. Nobody would be getting free electricity. But everybody would be getting less expensive electricity. To put that into perspective, the Electric Power Institute estimates that off-grid solar costs up to 8 times as much as grid-distributed solar power.

The grid

Wait a minute. Who already has that grid? That’s right—the utility company.

The utilities can also expand and maintain the grid and storage far more efficiently. They can borrow money for capital improvements at interest rates your own bank would never offer you. They’re guaranteed to be profitable because of deregulation, remember. It makes lending to them a no-brainer for banks.

But above and beyond the utilities’ ability to bankroll this all-important grid, there’s the simple fact that they also have the technical know-how and experience to balance the supply and demand of electricity across the grid.

This is why you see partnerships like the one SolarStone Partners has with Xcel Energy. It takes advantage of the strengths each offers. Our Minnesota solar gardens generate clean, renewable energy. It’s sold to Excel to distribute to business and residential customers through that all-important grid. The solar garden subscribers are getting their electricity through Xcel’s grid. The price they pay is discounted by up to 10% in exchange for their support of the solar garden.

All possible because of the grid.