Earth Day and solar

posted by Jeff | Sunday, April 22, 2018, 12:52 PM | comments: 0

One of the things we considered heavily when deciding to move was whether or not we could figure out how to add solar to the house. The 30% tax credit won't last forever, and if we were going to go bigger, that means higher electric bills for cooling, too, and by extension, higher carbon footprint. In any case, once the sale of the previous house was all said and done, we pulled the trigger and we'll be generating more than two-thirds of our power from our roof in a few months.

Renewable energy is such an obvious way to help reduce the carbon problem, and the cost of doing so has been dropping in a significant way in the last few years. On the solar front, the important thing is that the technology is maturing while the strategy to use it effectively is also coming into focus. I think the first thing that has made it real is the acceptance that energy storage has to be a part of the equation. The sun doesn't shine at night, so if you can generate excess energy and hold on to it, that certainly makes a difference. The second part is that the models of generation are changing. People are starting to realize that the centralized generation model, big power plants that feed the grid, is not necessary. Conversely, you don't need to make it all about individual generation either. There's an entire range in between that makes total sense. Imagine if every new suburban development project included a plot of land for solar panels and battery storage. That would be brilliant. Dense cities could never meet the demand, but pipe in the power from places a few miles out of town, again from solar and storage, and you don't need to feed it in from a big utility 50 or 100 miles away.

The impediment will be the incumbent utilities. They obviously don't want this, because they spend top dollar building the big plants (mostly using natural gas these days). They also own the distribution, and not every state forces them to treat them separately. (Side note: This is one thing Ohio gets right... you pay for the distribution by the local utility, the grid, but you can choose who you buy the power from that feeds into the grid.) Here in Florida, the utilities last year worked in a constitutional amendment on the ballot that had deceptive wording. Basically it said that you shouldn't have to "subsidize" your neighbor's solar, which is code for a prohibition on net metering, where you put your excess power back on the grid and the utility pays you wholesale rate credit for that power, as if you were a power plant. Fortunately, we struck that bullshit down, but not by much.

This isn't just good for the environment, it's good for the economy. Solar jobs already account for more work than every other form of energy other than oil, and it's getting very close to beating out natural gas. This doesn't fit the current political narrative, but the numbers are what they are.

These are exciting times, and they just happen to be good for the planet, too.

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