NRG Energy sees shining future for solar

May 24 23:59 2015

David Crane likes to compete with himself. For Crane, the CEO of NRG Energy (NRG), the biggest independent producer of electricity in the U.S., conventional coal, natural gas and nuclear plants provide the bulk of his company’s $3.8 billion in revenue. But Crane foresees a day not so far off when new technologies like rooftop solar and batteries will turn the electric power industry upside down, and NRG is moving in that direction.635679057443211677-GTY-476570445

What’s coming, he said, is a transition “over the next generation” from a system nearly totally reliant on a network of coal, natural gas and nuclear plants to one where homes and businesses can increasingly meet their own electricity needs with rooftop solar panels and batteries, and even go off the grid. NRG’s commitment to distributed solar is showing results, as was evident in the Princeton, N.J.-based company’s financial results for the first quarter of 2015.

NRG increased its distributed solar business by nearly 3,000 customers from January through March, bringing it to more than 16,000 in 10 states. The growth might have been even greater except for heavy snowfalls covering roofs in the Northeast, where much of NRG’s solar business is located. All told, NRG is aiming for as many as 40,000 solar customers by the end of 2015, with an eye to eventually becoming a strong rival to SolarCity (SCTY), the industry leader with more than 218,000 installations.

The potential for enabling a complete break with the grid looms even larger with new developments in battery technology, like one unveiled recently by Tesla that charges using electricity from solar panels and powers homes at night. In fact, Crane’s home is a test bed for an engine developed by Segway inventor Dean Kamen that uses a dwelling’s natural-gas service to generate electricity and works with a battery to store power from solar panels.

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