Back to Solar Class, MIT

Oil is over, solar is now, says MIT. Throw money and policy at it, but lose the net metering.

That’s the street translation of the policy pathways recommended by Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s quite long The Future of Solar report (PDF). With its stated objective a recalibration of U.S. government policy, MIT’s multidisciplinary analysis found that the U.S. needs to massively accelerate the solarization of its generation capacity — by about 2,000 percent, if possible.

To get there, its respective state renewable portfolio standards need to be upgraded to a national standard. In today’s polarized times, they are too scattered to efficiently transition the nation as a whole to renewables. Legislative relief and economic incentives should in turn be rerouted toward “new technologies and systems with the potential to deliver transformative system cost reductions,” The Future of Solar explains. “To this end, the study emphasizes the need for federal research and development support to advance low-cost, large-scale electricity storage technologies.”

MIT’s release didn’t directly name Tesla Energy’s game-changing Powerwall, which hauled in $800 million in reservations days after its announcement. (“Crazy off the hook viral,” said Elon Musk.) But MIT’s dense report did argue that net metering policy should be discarded for fear of blowback to the residential solar future that just made Musk nearly a cool billion in days.

“We’re not anti-residential, because some people love the thought of solar on their roof, and if you’re going to subsidize solar, there’s no reason not to subsidize them,” MIT economics professor and study chair Richard Schmalensee told Greentech. “But there’s no reason to excessively subsidize them, or to subsidize them in a way, as net metering does, that’s going to produce a pushback.”

This summation fails once you factor in industrial and commercial rooftop solar, which is what MIT didn’t do, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. One might add that “excessively subsidize” is a lazy choice of words to describe net metering price policy, after one calculates the enormous (and enormously wasteful) political and economic advantages that utilities have historically received. Whose globally warming emissions do the utilities think sparked the scorching solar race MIT is analyzing right now in the first place?

MIT’s exhaustive report may get credit for finding it “unwise” to power down America’s valuable Investment Tax Credit, but it still needs work. A major university needs to make a more persuasive argument for why an industry that for too long has been rewarded with preferential political and economic treatment should do anything else but step out of the way and let an infrastructure with a future get a deserved turn at the controls. Now that Tesla Energy’s Powerwall has opened the floodgates of a billions-dollar residential solar storage market, whatever pushback net metering meets is likely to get swallowed by our fusion reactor in the sky.

This article appeared at Solar Energy