Solar Battery Backup Faces Opposition from SCE

Southern California Edison has been discouraging customers from adopting solar battery backups.

Earlier this year, AMECO Solar applied for LADWP & SCE’s Net Energy Metering program on behalf of two of our customers who had wanted to install solar panels along with a battery storage system. Since it was a process that had been allowed in the past and was previously acceptable to these utilities, we were surprised to receive notice that the applications were rejected.

Shortly thereafter, we received a memo from the utility company that was sent to all solar contractors in Orange County and Los Angeles. In this letter, SCE stated, “If a renewable generator is modified so that the battery storage system is integrated into the generator, SCE cannot separately meter the energy from the renewable PV generator and the non-renewable battery”.

In simpler terms, the utility claims that there is no way of knowing whether the solar owner is selling back power that was originally generated from the solar panels or from the electric grid itself. SCE assumes that solar owners are “gaming the system” by charging their batteries with nonrenewable power and then selling it back to the utility during peak times as if it was generated by their PV systems.

The accusation seems ridiculous to both solar owners and companies. Most solar customers install a battery storage system so that they can use solar energy in the event of a power outage. Moreover, the majority of battery backups do not have the capacity to send power back to the grid. The few dollars “saved” by selling nonrenewable energy back to SCE would not make up for the large investment needed for such back-up batteries used in a household.

As a result of this new interpretation, future solar owners would be denied entry into the Net Energy Metering program if batteries are also installed. Even worse, it is probable that any solar NEM generators with battery backup who had previously been granted entry would now be denied participation in the program as well.

Currently, the only solution is to redesign a solar electric system so that the batteries are metered separately. It’s an expensive undertaking and adds significant costs to installation, which will most likely deter solar customers from pursuing this option.

The California Public Utilities Commission is trying to work out a deal with utilities that would let customers who have purchased solar battery backups participate in Net Energy Metering programs without the possibility that they could be selling grid-produced power back. Though, there is no clear indication of when the issue might be resolved.

Since these types of systems make up only a small portion of the overall solar market, SCE’s recent efforts to deny battery storage systems can be seen as another way to attack solar customers and the solar industry. Without the benefits of the NEM program, the payback period of solar system installation is extended and owning one becomes less attractive. Less solar customers producing their own renewable energy means more customers for Edison using non-renewable energy, which ultimately means more money for the utility’s bottom line.

Because of the obstacles detailed in this article, AMECO Solar does not currently offer solar battery backup systems as part of our solar installation services. While we aim to provide the most comprehensive solar experience possible to our customers, we do not want to place our clients in a position where they may not be able to realize the full potential and value of their solar panels because of utility rate policies.