No one can deny that 2016 was a turbulent year, least of all energy professionals. Last year marked the continuation of bitter regulatory tangles between utilities and environmental and clean energy groups. At stake? The future of net energy metering (NEM), tax credits, and other incentives that proponents say are vital to the proliferation of solar energy. All over the U.S. – and particularly in the coal-heavy Midwest – utilities complained that NEM for solar customers represented an unsustainable pricing system. If residential solar installations keep growing the way they have for the past two years, some utilities argued, the power companies could no longer afford to keep extended subsidies and price relief for solar-powered households.
Interestingly, 2016 was also the year that we got a full launch of Tesla’s Powerwall 2. Tesla paired the release of its revamped energy storage battery with a small-screen unveiling of solar roof tiles on TV’s Desperate Housewives set – and many Americans became acquainted with the idea of solar storage for the first time. Battery power’s entry into the mainstream begs the question: What is the way forward for solar? Is it residential rooftop solar paired with energy storage? Or will large-scale, utility-owned installations dominate, eventually rendering residential solar unnecessary?