Some of the challenge of implementing multifamily PV systems relates to outmoded or overly restrictive policies by utilities and public service commissions. Two programs could help overcome some of these challenges.
Community net metering—Some locales allow “virtual net-metering” in which a utility customer buys a certain number of PV modules in a large array located somewhere off-site, and the utility tracks the PV production and subtracts the energy from the customer’s utility bill. It is a simple accounting transaction—no physical connection to the home is required. (See “Growing Solar in Your Community” in HP143.)
Feed-in tariff—This is the simplest of all. With a feed-in tariff, the utility is required by law to purchase all PV-produced electricity at retail or higher prices. The price premium paid to producers is funded by a small surcharge on nonrenewable energy usage. Using this approach, many countries, notably Germany and Japan, have grown their solar capacity immensely, and have provided green investment opportunities for millions of their citizens. In our case, we would have simply hooked up the system to the utility at the nearest location, and sold the power, crediting the money to residents to offset their utility bills.
Improved utility tariffs—Most states define a variety of tariffs or “service classifications” that define rates for different classes of power users. The structure of available tariffs can have an impact on community PV projects. For example, New York state does not have a tariff for multifamily residential service, so master-metered neighborhoods must use commercial tariffs, which tend to cost more. New York also lacks any applicable time-of-use or peak/off-peak tariff, so residents cannot take economic advantage of the fact that PV produces the most power during the time of day when utilities in other states are paying premium prices per kWh.