Between decreased costs, new technological advances, and increasing consumer awareness, it would seem that the popularity of solar energy is on the rise. But is it really?
President Obama has long touted an “all of the above” energy policy, but when it comes to renewables like solar, accessibility and reliability may still be further down the road than meets the eye. Even with increasing activity around solar leasing programs and community partnerships that enable a distributed solar energy plan among residents of given areas, there’s a disproportional cost-benefit analysis regarding solar energy that must be addressed.
Consider two scenarios – one, a family living in a remote, rural area, and in another part of the country, a family living in a cramped housing project. In either scenario, though solar energy may be desirable, it may not be as affordable or reliable as either of these families might need it to be as a cost effective power supply.
The rural family, isolated from neighbors or commercial activity, likely could not afford to install and rely upon solar energy as the primary means of electric generation because no one else would be in the immediate vicinity to help offset the costs of set up, use or maintenance. In the case of the family living in the projects, because they do not own their own home and are living within limited means, the ability to purchase or lease solar panels is an option as unlikely as they come.
A major component of solar energy talks that seems to go missing is the conversation around affordability. Even though solar energy is less costly today than it was thirty years ago, it is still far from affordable for many Americans. Likewise, the question of distribution and transmission of solar energy such that consumers are afforded consistent, reliable energy – even when the sun goes down, or it’s a cloudy or rainy day – still remains unanswered. The most reliable of solar panels that help mitigate fluctuations in weather or time of day are still among the most expensive on the market. So assuming that most people would not be able to afford the high-end cells, how do you ensure consumer value at affordable rates?
Not that solar energy isn’t worth considering. But as the equation is being worked out, we have to consider the benefits we’re trying to create, at what cost, and who pays. While solar may be part of the answer to a rich energy portfolio that enables us to rely less on fossil fuels, it may not be the only answer we rely upon.