Utilities resist the battery-solar combo

As Tesla prepares its massive battery factory and states try to woo the automaker, it’s becoming clear that battery pricing is nearing that critical point where it’ll be affordable to pair a battery system with a solar system at reasonable cost. In fact Tesla has long been providing technology to produce a battery back up system for SolarCity’s customers.

But not so fast. Apparently, there are only 12 customers in SolarCity’s pilot program that have managed to get their battery systems grid connected. Not shockingly, California utilities are blocking the process, charging exorbitant connection fees or drawing out the application process.

I stayed recently at a house that was off the grid in a remote area that had a combination solar-battery systems. There are inconveniences, to be sure. The system was old, and power quality was inconsistent. But these are technological problems, which engineering and improvements in battery chemistry should one day solve. And that day is soon, if not already here since each day solar efficiency and battery density creeps up.

One thing that is becoming apparent is that net metering—selling power back to the grid—will face fierce opposition. My bet is we’ll see it completely phased out over the next few years since regulators will be unwilling to force utilities into becoming service and distribution providers that integrate disparate sources of power. The utilities will also probably claim that the technological hurdles are beyond them. Until then, we just trudge through a time where an industry does everything it can to fend off disruption.