Tom Werner, Sunpower CEO, has made some comments recently about the potential for home owners to go off the grid. He doesn’t seem to have much regard for the notion. Let’s look at some of his statements.

thomas werner

”I’d go further and say that grid independence is naïve. That’s not going to happen in the foreseeable future. There is a need for the grid, the grid plays an important role and will for the foreseeable future. SunPower has never taken the position that the utilities will be obsolete.”

As CEO of a large corporation he has to speak sensitively in public so he doesn’t offend business partners and create bad press. That’s a given. He’s probably well aware that there are already people living off-grid.

Some of them may be survivalists or fed up with cities and conventional lifestyles. Others simply are ahead of the curve with renewable technology and environmental awareness.

It also depends what you mean by off-grid. A couple near San Francisco powered their Nissan Leaf EV with solar panels, but their house is still grid connected. The utility power is there if they need it, but the intention is to not be dependent upon it.

Also, consider that a company in Alabama can generate about 98% of its electricity from solar power and has its own local grid, so it might be considered off the main grid, or mostly so.

“I think that there’s a business model evolution for utilities but they will always have an important role with the grid. I think that we’ll see less centralised power generation and less of the ‘hub and spoke’ model of utilities and a smarter grid that can do both hub and spoke and distributed generation and that’s always been SunPower’s position. We agree that utilities will always have an important role and in fact what’ll happen is it’ll emphasize a more intelligent grid and less emphasis on generation.”

Grid defection could be motivated by consumers saving money over the long-term by operating their own home and business energy systems. It could be motivated by a sense of pride in operating free of utilities, which some say have a sort of monopoly on energy in America. It could be motivated by having a love of technology and wanting to install solar and wind because of that passion.

Obviously, some are also motivated by wanting to wean themselves off of any fossil fuels permanently. The motivation for full or partial grid defection could be a blend of all or some of these desires.

In San Diego, about a dozen years ago, extreme rate hikes for consumers caused quite an uproar. Price volatility and a lack of alternatives could also drive consumers to want their own power sources.

“We believe that we’ll become what we’ve labelled as ‘energy service provider’ and the broad concept would be that the combination of storage with solar with energy management gives you the consumer perhaps total control of your energy bill, certainly way more control of your energy bill than you’ve ever had. Now,  we don’t believe that we’ll become a utility however.

We’ll partner with utilities on micro grids and community-based solar and we will free the consumer and give them way more control of their energy bill in general. That’s where we’ve made up ground in the last couple of years…and an area we’re investing more heavily in.”

We’ve all heard the term democratization of the media, because we live in the age of blogs, and social media. It is possible there will be a democratization of energy too, where every day homeowners generate their own power and share some of it with local communities to bring in some money.

Add 3D printing to the mix, and local people might just start becoming entrepreneurs out of their garages, just like compunter enthusiasts did to start the PC revolution. Imagine a Steve Jobs of energy, or a hundred of them.