Why Solar is Growing
It seems like everywhere you look solar power is in the news. The federal government has committed to doubling the nation’s solar capacity in three years. Various stimulus bills and clean energy legislation are flowing funds toward residential solar power. Why have renewables, and residential solar power specifically, become such hot items?
One place to look is at technological advancement. Every day, solar panels get more efficient, and new solar technologies are always on the horizon – some near and others far. But improved panel efficiency is not driving the solar boom. In fact, since the 1970s, when solar energy entered the national consciousness, residential solar power efficiency has increased only incrementally. The fact is, solar is a mature technology with decades of development behind it: many of those panels from 30 years ago are still working today.
A better place to look is at the cost of energy. More often than not, electric rates go up. From 2004 to 2006 the average retail price of electricity across the Unite States increased 17 percent. This price is tied to the cost of coal, natural gas and oil - the fossil fuels used to make most of our electric power. During that period, average fossil fuel prices for electricity generation increased a cumulative 30.2%. In particular the price of oil caught the public’s attention, largely because if its relationship to the price of gasoline. During 2003, the inflation adjusted price of a barrel of crude oil rose above $30, reached $60 by August 2005, and peaked at $147.30 in July 2008. Oil prices have come down since then, but this spike served as an acute reminder that utility prices tied to fossil fuels can fluctuate wildly, while residential solar power is a clean, stable alternative.
Social and Political Will
The single largest factor driving the residential solar power boom is our own will. Policies and incentives that level the playing field between solar and dirtier, less efficient sources for making electricity are key to widespread adoption. As an example, about a decade ago, Germany decided they needed to have a much larger portion of their energy come from renewable resources. And today, cool and cloudy Germany is actually the global leader in solar generated electricity. It appears that America is embracing some of that wisdom. Today, a host of federal incentives and stare rebates have made residential solar power a practical energy choice.
Who is going solar?
When Jay Ottaway and his wife purchased their new house, they knew they wanted to make it as energy efficient as it was beautiful. “We found a 100 year-old fixer upper. It was in pretty bad shape, but we knew that if we made it energy efficient and if it had its own renewable energy source that would be a huge selling point in the future.”