Homeowners and ratepayers are finding new ways to make and store their own electricity, some with a surprising partner, the energy companies themselves.
This new DIY movement means that we're approaching a time when people may start leaving the existing electric power grid, just as many people have switched from existing landlines strung from power poles to mobile phones in our pockets.
NRG Energy, which is the biggest power provider to U.S. utilities, is bypassing its utility customers and providing solar panels to homes and businesses. The company's CEO David Crane said recently that it soon will offer customers natural gas-fired generators to produce additional power at night.
Consumers are realizing "they don't need the power industry at all," Crane told Bloomberg News. "That is ultimately where big parts of the country go."
SolarCity is doing the same thing. It has about 50,000 customers across the country who have leases or purchased solar panels. It has also installed lithium-ion storage batteries (made by EV car maker Tesla) in about 300 California homes so that people can make power when the sun shines and run their lights and TV at night.
"There's a massive energy transformation that is occurring and it's super exciting," said SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive in an interview with Discovery News. "Solar, combined with (power) storage, may be the next decentralization and in the end the consumer ends up with a better deal."
The amount of energy stored in the garage-based li-ion batteries isn't enough to run the entire home, but it can serve as a backup in case of a power outage. For homes in storm-ravaged areas, solar storage basically replaces diesel generators.