Craig Morris posted about small Plug & Play solar panels in Germany, under the title of “The danger of solar after grid parity“.
Since I don’t think that solar energy is dangerous, I was not happy about that headline. One of the “dangers” discussed in the article is that some very small solar panels might not be reported to the network operator. I call these Plug & Play solar, and they have been extensively discussed at Photovoltaikforum.
To get an idea of that, again, look at Frank Farenski’s documentary “Leben mit der Energiewende”, where he has some footage of these systems standing around. Basically, these are normal solar panels with an inverter and a battery integrated, so costumers may just plug them into any outlet in their homes.
As for the legal side, it is clear that there is no duty for a consumer to register these Plug & Play systems with the German Bundesnetzagentur under Article 17 of the Law on Priority for Renewable Energy. That duty, introduced in 2009, is only relevant if someone wants to collect feed-in tariff payments, which is not the case for these very small scale systems that are only for self consumption.
As mentioned above, there is a lively discussion on if there is a duty to report on this kind of Plug & Play system to the relevant network utility at Photovoltaikforum. I am not sure about what a court would say on this matter right now.
But I think there should be no duty to register these systems. There is no duty to register your refrigerator either. As long as there are no security concerns (which are difficult to imagine with the low power we are talking about), everybody should be free to buy one of these systems without any hassle.
I recall that Lawrence Lessig came to Tokyo for a lecture in December 2002 and spoke about the upcoming Supreme Court decision in the Eldred case. At the time, he mentioned the principle of network neutrality, and pointed to an electric outlet in the room, noting that anybody is basically free to plug in any appliance to the electrical network, and that having the same principle for communication was the principle of “network neutrality”.
And it is true. I can buy any television, refrigerator, computer, whatever, and plug it into my outlet without registering all these appliances with my utility, or getting approval from anybody.
That principle is important, and it should be true for electricity as well as for the Internet. Of course, there may be issues of security that have to be worked out, but these should be worked out in exactly the same way as with all electric appliances. That is, the maker of the Plug & Play solar panel needs to make sure there is no danger of electricity leaking or of fire, and the consumer does not need to worry about these matters.
Germany had over 32 GW of PV installed at the end of 2012. That’s a world record, and it’s impressive. But it is still less than 400 W per capita. Have every citizen buy on average two of these Plug & Play systems and put them on their balcony, and you easily get to more than double that. That makes economic sense for the consumer, since the price for generating with such a Plug & Play solar panel is now under the average price people pay their utility for electricity.
For the very least, there should be more of these Plug & Play systems sold in Germany than there are cars. That would be 53.6 million, so 60 million Plug & Play systems (adding up to 14.7 GW at the 245 W a panel noted in Morris’ post above) should be the absolute minimum goal.