Making home solar more affordable: how government can help
In principle, everyone thinks it important for the US to develop solar energy. The price of solar energy is coming down . So why don’t we have more of it?
We might as well ask another question: what are ways that solar energy can grow? There seem to be three basic answers, and they each have drawbacks that partly explain why it isn’t growing as much as many of us would like.
- The federal government can sponsor large-scale solar projects.
- The electric companies can switch from coal to solar.
- Households and businesses can go solar on their own
Two huge problems with the first of these possibilities appear with the words “federal” and “large-scale.”
At the moment, and for the foreseeable future, the federal government is largely dysfunctional. Both major parties seem to have expelled their centrists. The fringes have taken over the electoral process and prefer to score points against each other over cooperating to get anything done. Development of solar energy at the federal level requires long-term commitment at the very least. How likely is that in the foreseeable future?
On the brighter side, the Department of Energy has established a program called the SunShot Initiative in hopes of reducing by 75% the cost to homeowners of solar installation.
Solar energy is supposed to be good for the environment. Large-scale solar developments , existing and planned, require clearing land of vegetation, moving lots of big equipment to the site, and building the project using energy derived from fossil fuels. How long will it take for the environmental benefit of clean energy to outweigh the environmental damage caused by constructing the site in the first place?
Electricity doesn’t have to be dirty. If the electric companies used renewable energy instead of coal, petroleum, or nuclear, everything would be all right. Right?
It’s not that simple.
For one thing, electric companies are state-regulated utilities. State regulatory agencies usually require that electricity be provided at the lowest possible price. Calculation of the price of electricity excludes any consideration of the environmental costs of coal.
In fact, the cheapest way to get coal is to dismantle mountains from the top down. That method is even dirtier than traditional mining. But even if the executives of a particular electric company wanted to stop buying mountaintop coal, the regulators wouldn’t let them.
As it is now, regulators in, say North Carolina absolutely require electric companies to be complicit with the despoiling of the environment in, say, West Virginia.
As I have written repeatedly in this blog, the best and fastest path to wide-spread use of solar energy is for individual homeowners to install it themselves. So have I converted my own house to solar power? No. I can’t afford it. Regardless of whatever tax incentives might be available, I can’t afford it. I’ll bet I’m not alone.
The red tape required to get the necessary permits.often puts solar energy out of reach for homeowners Up to half of the cost of a solar installation comprises permitting, zoning, metering, financing, and arranging a connection to the grid. These “soft” costs make generating electricity from the rooftop more expensive than just buying it from the local utility.