MAIL: America’s Real Problem with Solar Energy

PV-powered community in Germany
A PV-powered community—in Germany.
PV-powered community in Germany

Each day, our solar industry sits down and whittles the unsightly knots off the tree we call solar energy. We, as a group, spend more time than we should pointing to one of a growing number of reasons why solar energy isn’t taking hold in America: that perhaps our government incentives were cut too quickly, that our state’s SREC program is broken, that the net-metering requirements aren’t strong enough.

Not that those things wouldn’t further bolster our industry, but go out and ask your friends and family about solar energy. The problem with solar energy in America isn’t a result of the deficiencies of the incentives (although improved incentives would set this industry on fire), it’s with the astounding lack of knowledge about a technology that can transform the lives of everyone in our nation and around the world.

Do you know how much of a return on your investment you would receive if you installed solar on your home or business right now? Do you know enough to even estimate the amount of money you’d save over 25 or 30 years? Would you guess that solar energy is actually a financial investment with returns more solid than stocks and bonds? Do you know that solar energy works in colder climates and on cloudy days? Did you know that nearly any solar installation company will gladly provide you these numbers for free? Not many Americans can begin to answer these questions.

Our industry is still young. We’re not the like the big corporations with seemingly unlimited budgets to pay for lobbying and well-placed television commercials. We reach out to a media who has no idea what solar energy really is. We have so much passion to help our country, and yet many nights feel like we are strangers to all. You can’t explain the entirety of the benefits of solar energy in 140 characters. It’s both a great and terrible feeling to know what you can give people if only they knew what you could give. It’s unrequited love in the form of a solar panel, and we have thousands upon thousands of them waiting to find good homes.

We’re not at war with the other energy companies, either. People will still need oil for a very long time. No energy employee from fossil-fuel plants will end up on skid row because of solar anytime soon. What about utility companies? Utilities are actually required by the state governments to purchase renewable energy, and most of them have employees that are themselves dedicated to the renewable energy sector. They are not our enemies, either. Banks? Banks are in the business of lending—they would love for solar modules to be included in home appraisals. The real estate market? Solar panels on a home sells that home much easier and the real estate market is not our enemy.

What we do face is a nation who just doesn’t understand us. We’re right here, and there’s not been a better time to go solar than today. The systems pay for themselves typically about halfway through their life cycle, and the rest is yours to keep. There is a 30% federal tax credit for installing a solar energy system on a home or business. Many states have similar tax incentives to add. In many states, you can get paid to send your excess energy back to the grid—or at least use it to offset future energy use. You can also sell solar credits to utility companies. And if you own a business, there’s a good chance you can depreciate the entire installation in one year. Did you know you’ll see, on average, a more steady return from “going solar” than folks have seen on stocks and bonds? Most people don’t know that.

So here we are: an industry with such a powerful solution for our country and citizens. We are, as a nation, being passed up by other countries. Look at countries like Germany and what they are doing with solar energy—it’s amazing. But we in the United States can’t afford to tell everyone what they need to know. We, instead, have to rely on people finding us. We try to reach out, but we just don’t have the financial size and subsequent influence to achieve the success solar energy deserves. The solar industry is young, lacking the means to get the word out in the way that giants of other industries are able to do.

We can see what is ahead, and we’ll still be here waiting. And when you say “Oh man, I wish I knew about this sooner,” we won’t judge. We’ll love and support you just the same. It was Marty McFly in Back to the Future who said: “I guess you guys aren’t ready for that yet. But your kids are gonna love it.” See you soon, America.

Terrill Dines • Honeycomb Solar

Comments (5)

Neanderthal75's picture

This article is a premier example of what is really wrong within the 'solar industry' and what's wrong with those of us promoting is: excuse making, pointing a finger of blame at a strawman that is all too often setup and then demolished, in order to avoid the 800lb gorilla in the room: the cost of solar tech and the reasons for the high costs.

Mr. Dines makes the utterly ABSURD argument that the problem solar is either naysayed, not taken seriously, or just not a 'hot topic' on the average person's lips, is a 'lack of education/promotion.'

Equine fecal matter!

Unless something seriously catastrophic has happened in the last 24 hours and no one told me about it, one can Bing, Google, Yahoo, Ask, etc., search and find MOUNTAINS (Himalaya size) of pertinent, accurate, and up to date information about solar energy, including costs, vendors, parts lists, yields, etc.

It is NOT a lack of information or education which is the problem, NOR contrary to Mr. Medlock's assertion that 'Big Oil' (ah, the arch-nemesis of all those living in conspiracy land) is 'out to get' the solar industry, it is a SERIOUS cost comparative to effective yield/return on investments that is the problem!

"Government incentives' is merely a euphemism for WELFARE, in this case as evinced by Mr. Dines, both private and corporate; the bill footed by the non-solar using public.

How about we get honest with ourselves, honest with the financial aspects involved, as well as the yield to investment comparatives so that the 800lb gorilla may be modified by real world solutions, rather than finger pointing and excuse making!

The technology is viable, it is NOT a 'new industry' as solar panel use is well into its third decade at a minimum! A 30 year old cannot be considered a 'baby', the computer industry, misused as an example, certainly does not qualify as a comparative.

Let's grow up and stop making excuses, shall we?

Richard Medlock's picture

BIG OIL is the reason Solar has a bad name in the US. One doesn't see that problem in Germany! Oh! No BIG OIL influence in their government!

Neanderthal75's picture

Using 'big oil' as the perennial 'boogey man' may provide you and those who think in the same/similar vein as yourself an emotional satisfaction, but sadly for your illogical and non-empirical argument, the evidence does not support your assertion.

Solar energy has a 'bad name' in the USA because of the 800lb gorilla in the solar energy room: COST and yield to investment results.

I would also point out to you, that the hard core environmental fanatics, from the Sierra Club, World Wildlife Fund, PETA, Greenpeace, etc., are also a severe impediment to the real world acceptance and expansion of solar energy: I've lost count of the Law Suits filed by these and other groups, STOPPING the construction, implementation, and start up of both solar fields and transmission lines!

Big oil, so far as my research has shown, has NOT been the agitator and instigator of such lawsuits, that would be the tool used by 'Greenies'

Robert Pollock_2's picture

All true, but America has similar problems with almost anything. Obamacare? How can people be arguing when almost no one knows what they're talking about?

My issue with solar in California, is that off grid systems aren't eligible for any incentives. Solar pioneers know that the grid is ancient, and should be fixed or tossed, yet the energy companies are trying to keep it, and control it, by lobbying politicians to pass laws that favor their strategies. Then, you have to be an electrician, an engineer, an accountant and a project manager to design, build and use a system. I find it fun, but lets be serious about getting more people on board. Like the first computers, acquiring solar has to be made more user friendly.

Robert Pollock

Neanderthal75's picture

Really? You're going to use Obamacare as an example 'ignorance' about an issue to condemn those against it?

Perhaps you should talk to the, so far, 5 MILLION American families who've had their Health Care Policies CANCELLED because the policies that they liked and could afford, didn't meet the new, stridently more stringent, and quite useless requirements of Obamacare Standards: ie, maternity, drug rehab, etc., coverage for 75 year old men and women!

Monthly rates for the 'new and improved' O.C. plans are anywhere from 15% to 300% HIGHER than the previously existing plans, and the deductibles have increased even higher!

But hey, the comparatives that these 5 million (according to the Feds own studies, upwards of 60 MILLION American families will lose their current health care plans) Americans had were the 40 something times Obama PROMISED that "If you like your current health care plan, you can keep it. Period."

Yeah, right.

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