Germany a world solar leader

Germany, which gets far less sun than South Carolina, has become a solar superpower because of aggressive government incentives.

In July, the country’s solar panels produced the equivalent of 35 average-size American coal plants or 20 nuclear plants.

South Carolina gets as much solar radiation as Florida and some parts of California, two solar power hot spots, yet it ranks near the bottom compared to other states when it comes to solar energy production, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Solar a threat to power companies

Solar power presents a challenge to utilities. Many power companies make money by building power plants, installing lines and spending money on other infrastructure, charging ratepayers to pay for it all, and then taking a cut of the profits.

State regulators are charged with deciding what’s a fair rate of return for these monopoly power utilities.

Solar power turns this business model upside down: Instead of a utility distributing power to hundreds of thousands of customers in a state-guaranteed market area, solar power puts electricity generation in the hands of customers. Because property owners pay for solar panels, utilities don’t get the guaranteed returns they otherwise would earn by building new plants themselves.

In a report earlier this year, the Edison Electric Institute, a utility-funded group, said solar power presents a “disruptive challenge” to existing utilities that will transform the industry and squeeze revenues.

South Carolina law makes it illegal for a company to sell solar power back to a utility, unless a company in effect becomes a utility, with all the regulatory requirements that other power companies face.

S.C. power no longer cheap

South Carolina has the highest average residential power rate in the South at 11.78 cents per kilowatt-hour, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s July figures. South Carolina’s average residential rate is slightly below the national average residential rate of 12.03 cents.