The Growth of the Private Home Solar Energy Sector is Increasing and Disruptive
As I listened to an NPR news article (Utilities Fight For Revenue Lost To Solar Power, Dec. 2015) recently, I was put in mind of a conversation I had on Friday with my editor about how Big Oil has done everything in its considerable financial and lobbying power to delay our nationwide conversion to solar energy for decades.
The reason? Profit. Pure and simple. No one goes out of their way to convert from one technology to another if they can still make money from the earlier less-developed technology. Now, it appears as utility companies feel the burn from home-owner solar, they are proposing punitive measures against home owners to slow or delay the growth of home-solar installations. To offset losses as more people get solar systems, some utilities are proposing a fee system.
Some utility companies are considering a fixed monthly charge that everyone would pay, $10 bucks a month, $120 a year. The fee may not sound like much, but to solar companies, it’s a direct attack.
From the “Death of the Electric Car” to our inability to develop high-capacity batteries to operate our much needed electrical developments to our underpowered, under-funded nationwide electrical grid, it seems the plan has been to do just enough to NOT do more. The growing fear is that investor-led energy providers will lose money more rapidly the more solar systems go online.
When I mentioned why this was an issue, why we should stop subsidizing the continued development of oil-based profits and why this would continue for the foreseeable future, I got incredulous stares from people. They couldn’t see why this was a losing battle for utility companies to engage in.
Here’s why: Utility companies raise their rates every year, pretty much calling such price gouging the cost of living, purchase of material costs, research and development costs for finding whatever they are burning to make the energy we are consuming. Energy costs never go down. This means people continue to pay more and more of their dwindling income for energy to heat their homes in winter and cool them in summer.
Solar power offers for the first time, in history, the ability to reduce energy costs with a modest initial outlay, bringing this costs savings to any homeowner, giving them the ability to limit their dependence on an outside energy provider. This has direct effects on the energy production ecosystem of jobs and resource providers who work with the energy industry.
There are an unbelievable number of people employed by this supply chain. The people who dig up the resource, be it coal or natural gas. The people who gather it, refine it, move it, set it up for burning, and the facilities used to create the energy due to the burning process. This industry is manpower intensive with the most dangerous work being done at the bottom of the workforce chain, while the bulk of the profit is made exclusively at the top.
Solar power can bypass this. Putting solar panels on the roof and or on the driveway and power can be directly related to home ownership. Reducing manpower further, the panels were probably made by robots in factories and mass produced. Yes, it is still expensive to make solar panels and continue the research to improve their effectiveness but it is still cheaper than building new dig sites and refining facilities.
Solar panels are shipped to a company who installs them. There are a few sundry technologies which surround solar power, batteries, computer chips, inverters, but I am certain the overall supply chain is much shorter than it is for power created from hydrocarbon sources.
And they have several larger payoffs. Solar power is clean once the panels are in place. While they require a degree of maintenance, it is far less than running an oil refinery required to extract natural gas. Solar panels lessen the energy needing to be produced, by power plants during peak hours which can reduce greenhouse gases, another societal benefit.
But the rubber hits the road: Home owners with solar panels have the ability to sell unused solar electricity back to the power provider and the provider has to pay for the energy generated by the homeowner. For the first time in history, a major firm pays money (or credit) to the homeowner. (Not every state offers this, but they should.)
Utility companies are already experiencing the burn in the states where companies have to buy power back. This cuts into the energy company’s profitability and undermines their business model of selling energy, which people could previously not get anywhere else.
Should we feel sorry for this recently disrupted energy model as it is being replaced (at least during the day) by solar energy? As battery technology slowly gets the resources spent on it to help it achieve greater capacity and efficiency, could there come a day where you buy NO power at all?Yes, I think that days is coming, sooner than anyone imagined. From where I sit, this isn’t a problem. Wars for foreign oil need to stop. Wars for resources should have never started. The potential and capacity to use solar power is far greater than most people realize and as we do, as it becomes more affordable to install the technology everywhere.
Rather than spending $3 trillion on warfare over the last decade perhaps its time to admit, as a nation, we have been empowering companies whose time had come long ago.
Said utility companies have been artificially sustained through lobbying, machinations and outright greed. Our dedication to renewable energy should imply the nation should be sticking solar power on every building, every street, every freeway divider, and every dog and cat asleep in the sun.
Solar power isn’t as cheap as I think it will get. A typical installation will still cost around twelve to twenty thousand dollars and will still take another ten to fourteen years to pay itself off. But for homeowners who can afford it, even if they live in a state which will not allow utilities to pay users back in cash, the reduction in energy costs can be quite nominal and worth the effort.
New payment programs are coming into existence where users can pay a flat utility rate even if they don’t own the panels and this would still offer them a degree of savings previously unconsidered. As the technology continues to improve and grow more efficient, there will new ways of implementing this technology as well.
The day has come where we should be spending and creating new ways of turning renewable energy into the only energy we need. It can be done, but only if the people providing the energy understand renewable energy will not be undone. The genie is out and never going back. They need to start thinking ahead toward the future where they may have to change their overall relationship to the consumer and the goal of energy distribution.
“Utilities Fight For Revenue Lost To Solar Power : NPR.” Audio, Npr.org. N.p. Web. 7 Dec. 2015. <http://www.npr.org/>
“Triumph of the Drill: How Big Oil Clings to Billions in Government Giveaways.” Motherjones.com. N.p. Web. 7 Dec. 2015. <http://www.motherjones.com/>
“Watch “Who Killed the Electric Car” (Full Video online) | EVtopia.org.” Evtopia.org. N.p. Web. 7 Dec. 2015. <http://www.evtopia.org/>
© Thaddeus Howze 2015, All Rights Reserved
Thaddeus Howze is a California-based speculative fiction author and technology consultant who has worked with computers since the 1980’s as a graphic designer, teaching computer science, managing developers, building sophisticated computer networks and as an IT executive. He has published two speculative fiction books, Hayward’s Reach and Broken Glass.
His non-fiction work has appeared in numerous magazines: Huffington Post, Gizmodo, Black Enterprise, the Good Men Project, Examiner.com, Panel and Frame, Science X and Astronaut.com. He maintains a diverse collection of non-fiction at his blog, A Matter of Scale. He is a contributor at The Enemy, a nonfiction literary publication out of Los Angeles.