Friends and family (“framily”) plans are all the rage for mobile telephony, for sharing voice minutes, text message, and data plans. If a group signs up together, you get a discount for going with the same provider – ATT, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint.
Electricity, until now, has been a household level choice. We each buy energy from the local utility, with an individual meter, bill, and payment. Does it have to be this way?
Imagine a revolutionary new structure for energy markets, based off the proliferation of smart meters and shared solar arrays.
A band of energy consumers decide to invest in a neighborhood solar array together. The group purchase of a relatively large systems sparks an economy of scale, reducing administrative and soft costs. Virtual metering allows the solar system’s output to be allocated to off-site meters. In a typical shared solar array, a given section of the system is dedicated to its owner’s electricity bill. With this new “framily" solar plan, the electricity generated by the framily’s portion is bundled with the aggregated usage loads of the framily, even though they may live in different houses, apartments, or across town. Total usage is added up, total generation is subtracted away, and the framily pays the different. The framily has different choices on how to split the payments: by load, by solar investment, equally. By including a local church, synagogue, or mosque in the framily, the group can even decide to support the community’s expenses on a pay-as-you-go basis.
An elegant feature of this approach is that it can work even where virtual net metering, or even net metering, is not in effect. By coupling generation output data with granular load patterns captured on smart meters, all the dollars, cents, and kilowatt-hours can be properly accounted and allocated.
We need some sophisticated data and modeling to demonstrate the solar framily approach. Using generation data, usage data, utility rate structures, and rules and regulation, let’s find where this might work and why. Let’s frame the business and financial models and move electricity into the twentieth-first century!