March 19

The Mainstreaming of Solar Power

As crippling droughts and rampaging polar vortexes have their way with the U.S. this winter, it’s becoming more and more apparent that our planet’s changing climate is more than just “global warming” (though that’s happening too: while the U.S. froze its’ tuches off, the southern hemisphere had one of its hottest summers ever.)

While our government and their climate-change denying buddies (who almost exclusively profit in some way or another from the extraction and/or sale of fossil fuels, and who have endlessly deep pockets of cash) pretend that science doesn’t exist, those of us in the real world are searching for ways to curb, or at the very least learn new ways to live with, the effects of a rapidly changing climate. At the top of the list of options is renewable energy. The good news? Sources of renewable energy, including wind, solar, and geothermal, are becoming more affordable almost by the day. The better news? They’re becoming less and less “alternative” forms of energy, and more and more mainstream. The deal announced last week by SolarCity and Best Buy is simply the latest example of the mainstreaming of renewable energy.

SolarCity, one of the country’s largest providers of residential solar power systems, announced plans to market their service in Best Buy stores in a small handful of states. (Read a bit more about the deal HERE)

solarcity-bestbuyWhat SolarCity, and other companies like it, do is lease solar power systems to homeowners. There are several huge advantages to this. First, it eliminates the high upfront costs of purchasing solar power systems. These high initial costs can run into the tens of thousands of dollars, with very long payback periods; high enough to put them out of the range of what most people are willing to pay. By leasing the equipment rather than purchasing, the homeowner pays a lease fee each month to the company. This fee is typically less than what their traditional electric bill would be.

Secondly, leasing takes away all of the guesswork and maintenance. SolarCity installs the system, and they also maintain it over time, and repair it should it stop working properly or become damaged. All as part of the lease agreement. Sweet deal!

What does Best Buy bring to the table? In a word, visibility. By establishing a marketing presence in an already established, popular retail environment like Best Buy, SolarCity gets to preach the word to many, many people who otherwise wouldn’t know such a service even existed.

Right now, the deal is only available in Arizona, California, New York, Hawaii and Oregon. (SolarCity and similar solar-leasing companies currently only operate in a small number of states. But the list is growing. Here in Michigan, I’ve got my name on the waiting list.)

Beating humanity’s addiction to carbon-based fuel is going to take an incredible amount of work. Our economies, our way of life, our entire world society is built on oil, coal, and gas. Billions of us burning these fuels is doing a real number on the planet, but the solutions are out there. Those huge wind turbines that are popping up like giant flowers all over the country are one solution. Using more energy-efficient appliances in our homes is another. Hell, just turning off lights around the house when we’re not using them is a solution. Nuclear power may or may not be a viable long-term solution. A new economy based on installing solar panels on the roofs of homes around the nation is certainly a solution.

The bottom line? There’s no one way we’re going to progress past the carbon-based world we now find ourselves in. Fossil fuels are an amazingly efficient form of energy; finding cleaner replacements to replace them is going to require combinations of new types of energy and lifestyle changes. Renewable energy to power our homes and industry…. Cars that are much more efficient than they are today, cars powered by electricity, and much fewer cars on the road altogether….moving toward smaller, more localized economies….less conspicuous consumerism…. the list goes on and on.

The steps we need to take to get out of this mess are out there, we just need to start implementing them. Making people aware of their existence and convincing them of their viability are the first tentative steps towards a more sustainable future. We can all help, by making changes both monumentally huge and infinitely small. If you live in one of the participating states, that change may be as simple as walking into a Best Buy, checking out the cool new flat screens TVs, and signing up to turn your homes’ roof into an electricity-making powerhouse. In 20 years, picking out a solar power company will be as commonplace as shopping for a new smartphone. That’s my hope, anyway.

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Posted March 19, 2014 by in category "Environment", "Green Living

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