As usual during a climate discussion, we always start talking about the wrong part of the issue and get stuck there for years.
Solar power is getting cheaper!
Yeah, but it’s still more expensive than traditional power!
You can get power without going through the utility company–distributed generation is great!
Yeah, but you free ride for the connection you need when the sun isn’t shining and poor people are paying for the maintenance on your wires and poles!
We’re going to have to turn to solar eventually–why not start now?
Because we can’t store it–we’re burning fuel to back you up while you’re burning daylight.
Sound familiar? Getting a little boring?
If you want a fairly recent evaluation of the costs, payback times and energy savings for a solar home, click here.
On a more general level, let’s talk honestly about solar power. It is almost certainly the power source of the future. We will find adequate storage, modules and balance of systems components will continue getting cheaper and there are just too many rooftops begging for panels.
Solar power is probably not the fuel of the present. I predicted 2015 would be the year that solar reaches parity for residential systems. Hasn’t happened yet. Looks like mayyyyybeee 2017. But even when it hits parity that doesn’t mean that everyone is going to switch in a day. Or a decade. It will take 50 years from the point it’s cheaper to the point where it’s everywhere. That’s how long it took coal. That’s how long it took oil.
Here’s the best looking solar chart in the world:
But here’s one that’s a little more recent:
Solar isn’t there. Solar is almost there.
What tickles me when discussing solar power is that nobody talks about the elephant in the room. Or to mix metaphors, they don’t talk about the parable of the bear. At this point, the cost of solar power could probably just stand still and it would still win out. Why?
Here’s what happened to utility rates between 1990 and 2011:
State % Increase in Avg. Rate
New Jersey 50.1%
New York 52.5%
While the cost of solar is going down, the cost of everything else is going up.
Astute observers will already have noticed that many of the states with the highest increase in electricity prices are heavy into solar power. Some will say that that’s one reason solar is popular. Others will say that accommodating solar is driving electricity prices higher.
Both statements are trivially true. Solar is popular primarily because upper middle class people want to go green. Utilities are using connection issues that cost them pennies to raise rates by dollars.
Solar will win in the end. The fuel is free and the capital costs get lower every year.
But it won’t win tomorrow. And it will face robust competition from natural gas, coal and the subject of the next post, wind power.