Feeling smug about your solar rooftop? Not so fast

man installing PV panel on roof

(Roofjockey via Wikimedia Commons)

“If you installed solar panels on your roof and feel aglow with environmental virtue, you may be in for a rude awakening. There’s a good chance someone else has purchased your halo and is wearing it right now.”

That surprising bit of news comes from UC Berkeley business professor Severin Borenstein, a research associate of the Energy Institute at Haas.

“In most states (including California), power generated by rooftop solar panels earns renewable-energy certificates, which quantify how much clean electricity they produce,” says Borenstein. But if panels are leased or installed under a power purchase agreement, “it’s the ‘third-party owner’ — not the homeowner — who gets those certificates. Most then turn around and sell the RECs, which magically turns some other brown electrons green.”

What gives? In a Berkeley Blog post, Borenstein explains how two utility companies can each claim your green power as their own, and what that means for you and the environment.