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By: Judd Baroff, Blogger, Yellowlite, Inc.

Recently, YellowLite reported that Ohio Governor John Kasich placed a moratorium on Ohio’s energy efficient standards.  This came four years after the Ohio legislature almost unanimously passed them and weeks after President Obama rolled out new regulations to curb carbon emissions.  Gov. Kasich worried that the new standards were too expensive.

Well, news reported in London’s The Guardian proves him wrong.  Solar energy has won in Queensland, the North-Eastern most territory of Australia.  For several days last week, the price of energy, normally around $40-$50 a megawatt hours, stayed about zero.  That’s right – free energy.

With the steady cost of coal-fired production and the ever lowering price of solar cells, more and more Queenslanders had been installing rooftop solar panels.  Now, there are over 1,100MW of rooftop solar cells in Queensland alone.  This has turned the traditional model completely about.  Instead of the power plants lighting individual homes, the homes are producing more energy than they need to light themselves, and pushing this excess power back onto the grid.

“Negative pricing” is exactly what it sounds like, when the wholesale price of energy dips below free.  This happens when high generation of inflexible power, energy from power sources, like coal-fired plants, that cannot easily be turned off and on, and meets low demand.  These problems are exacerbated in communities, like Queensland, where individuals are producing more energy than they need to consume, and, by pushing their excess energy back onto the grid, doubly lowering the demand for inflexible power generation.  This is often called the “Christmas Day” effect.  And, while negative pricing is not uncommon, it usually happens only at night when most of the population is asleep.  If it happens too often during the day, inflexible power generators must reduce production.  

But can they really properly reduce production if any energy produced by coal-fired generators is essentially free for several days running?  Not at all, and that is why, last year, very few coal-fired plants made any profit at all.  And those who made profit, made little.  The State-owned energy generators are the proliferation blaming rooftop solar specifically.

Rooftop solar is also big business.  Last week, the Western Australia Independent market Operator forecast that 75% of detached and semidetached dwellings, and 90% of commercial businesses could have rooftop solar by 2023.  And Bloomberg New Energy Finance expects Australian households to be spending up to $30bn on rooftop solar installations.

To counteract solar’s profit zapping power, coal-fired power plants in Australia are trying to limit or even stop customers from selling back their power to the grid.  Queensland network operators are telling residents that they will allow customers to install as much solar as they want, so long as the solar powered systems have blockers installed to limit the amount of power the systems push back.  Networks warn that too much reverse energy will destabilize the grid system, but it is also the only way the power plants could make a profit.

But there is a phantom step trap before these power companies.  A customer does not need his power system to be connected to the grid if he can generate enough power to sustain his own life.  Like solar cells, solar energy batteries are increasing both their longevity and the amount of energy they can store, while reducing cost.  Shortly, it will be more economical for residents to be off the grid entirely.  In fact, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), a federal agency of Australia, concluded at the end of 2013 that as early as 2040, half of all energy could come from stored solar.  

This would be even more devastating if communities could create intra-networks, so buildings in various parts of a town could compensate for the use of their neighbors.  Perhaps an entirely democratized system of power generation and consumption is possible.  And, perhaps even with the Governor’s moratorium, this same feat can be reproduced here in Ohio.

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