Look up and you just might see one: solar panels are on top of more homes and businesses than ever before. Around the country, rooftop solar is an increasingly important source of electricity. For many customers with solar panels, solar power provides most of their electricity; many even sell power back to the power company.
With the growing interest in solar power come new questions: Consumers wonder whether investing in solar panels will pay off in energy savings. Utilities wonder how to manage their systems with new sources of local (rooftop) generation. Regulators wonder how much consumers should pay for backup power that they will need only during cloudy times. Everyone wonders what technological changes are on the horizon in the solar world.
Changes in the energy marketplace are prompting changes in regulatory policy, too. Public utility commissions and some state legislatures are debating important issues, such as (1) how much to pay customers with solar panels under a “net metering” approach, (2) whether regulated utilities should be permitted to own rooftop solar businesses, (3) how the spread of solar and other “distributed” sources of energy may affect the reliability and resiliency of the power grid, and (4) what disclosures solar installers are making and whether consumers understand them. Decisions made today by state legislatures and utility regulators will greatly influence the solar industry’s evolution, and how consumers – those that have solar panels and those that don’t – fare.
Here at the FTC, part of our job is to gather and analyze information about the nature of competition and consumer protection in key industries. Not surprisingly, we have done a lot of work in the energy sector, a critical part of the economy. On June 21, the FTC will host a workshop on “Something New Under the Sun: Competition & Consumer Protection Issues in Solar Energy,” at our office in Constitution Center. A range of stakeholders and experts will gather to share perspectives and gain a better understanding of a number of questions, including:
- How should utility customers be compensated for the power they generate with solar panels?
- How does the rapidly growing use of solar power affect utilities, either positively or negatively, when solar customers must still depend on power from the grid at times when their solar panels don’t provide the electricity they need?
- How vigorously do solar installers compete with one another and with traditional utilities that provide power from the grid?
- What information do consumers need to make an informed decision about whether to go solar? What could the FTC do to help consumers make better decisions? What sorts of information do companies that sell solar panels provide to consumers, and is that enough?
The workshop will start at 8:30 am, with Chairwoman Edith Ramirez delivering opening remarks. The event will be webcast live from the FTC website, and we’ll be posting an agenda soon. Mark the date and plan to join us or tune in. And watch for updates on Twitter @FTC using the hashtag #FTCsolar.