Elon Musk's Telsa / Panasonic Deal Will Transform Solar Energy Too

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NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Ever since Telsa Motors and Panasonic announced they would be partnering on the Gigafactory, it's become clear that the joint venture will transform the automotive industry. But this is not just important for those who want to own a cheaper version of the cool Tesla electric car.

The utilities and energy landscape will be hugely altered too. 

The Gigafactory is expected to reach production of 500,000 cars per year in 2020, cutting battery costs by 30% or more. And economies of scale thanks to the factory will drive down the price of batteries not just for cars but for solar systems as well.

Don't forget SolarCity is the brainchild of Elon Musk, too, and the Gigafactory will help both his businesses soar.

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Off-the-grid is becoming a more popular saying these days, thanks to all the reality survival and do-it-yourself shows on TV. We hear lots of talk of going solar as a way to go off the grid -- something I did myself, sort of, anyway.

When I installed my solar system a few years ago, thanks to very large federal and state rebates, the entire project cost me approximately $14,000. Before the solar system, I would be facing monthly bills of $300 and up to $700 or more in the summer. Now my annual electric bill comes in closer to $300.

To say the solar system paid for itself would be an understatement. Still, I am not totally off the grid, as I have no battery storage. Energy my system makes from the sun flows back onto to the power company's grid during the day, and when the sun sets I pull power I need off the grid. This process, known as net-metering, has served me well these past few years. But that is changing too.

What most people forget is that utilities companies and their monopolies require growth. As champions of solar these past 10 years, they have discovered that for the first time energy use growth in the U.S. has slowed to a crawl. The Wall Street Journal this week talked about the anemic growth in power consumption entering its seventh year.

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Electric companies, which can charge a fixed percentage of its sales to generate a profit, need energy use to grow. Solar has helped crimp this. Across the country now, even in solar leader California, changes are coming. And these changes are not the pro-solar moves they been sold to be.

Using a haves-vs.-have-nots approach in California, electric utilities have changed the solar game. The more power you use the less your bill is. For solar customers with low or no bills now, this will mean large increases in power bills -- for those who are on the grid, that is.

Time-of-day charging is coming too. Before, energy was cheap late in the evening. But thanks to smart metering, electric utilities can charge by the minute with differing prices all day long.

So how does this affect Tesla and Panasonic?