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Kristian Hanelt, senior vice president for renewable capital markets at Clean Power Finance, laid out three possible business models for utilities to profit from distributed solar.
1. Utilities invest in residential solar outside of their regulated territory. Much like a utility invests in centralized power plants or wind farms, it can invest in many rooftop solar installations. The advantage is that the utility now has a relationship with a new customer to whom it can sell additional services.
2. A utility owns distributed solar assets in its own territory and earns a return as it would on other investments. The utility could purchase solar from an independent power producer and resell it to the consumer at a profit in some cases, according to Clean Power Finance. The utility has a low cost of capital and is a trusted and known brand compared to solar installers or financiers, Hanelt said. This could also help meet renewable portfolio standards.
3. The third model is one where the utility offers solar as part of a “value-added service model,” in which solar is a “gateway” via which to upsell other technologies, such as EV charging stations or smart thermostats.
The utilities that actively explore new business models in distributed solar, rather than fight them, will benefit the most because they’ll have a lead on others, Hanelt argued.
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