20 March 2016 - DrSunshine.org

Solar? Why Not?

Dr Sunshine lives in a quiet, well-designed townhouse, identical except for interior decoration and reflected floor plans, to twenty-nine other units. About half of the units have roofs that support the installation of solar panels that generate as much electrity as the people in the unit use. The other half are oriented less favorably, but even those can install solar panels producing half of the needed power. That is a nice stroke of luck, but not the only one. Another lucky circumstance is that the buildings are located in a state whose laws require local electric utilities to trade, even up, the excess electricity a residence produces from solar panels during the day with electicity made available at night by the utility, up to the total annual electric usage in the residence (net metering). Add to that the remarkable fact that some well-established companies offer to install and maintain a solar electricity generation system on any suitable residence without requiring any investment from the  homeowner. Just a commitment to purchase, at a lower rate per kilowatt hour than the electric utility charges, all the electricity that the system generates. Alternatively, the homeowner has the option of buying the solar system, either at the time of initial installation or five, ten, or fifteen years later, thereby owning all the electrictiy it generates.

Given such an offer, it is difficult to understand why any of the homeowners turn it down. Yet, only three of the thirty units have solar panels on their roofs. Dr Sunshine is struggling to fathom why people would fail to take advantage of such an attractive opportunity. It would be one thing if the people of the state had exercised so little control over their legislature that it had passed laws discouraging solar sytems like the Florida legislature did. A friend of Dr Sunshine warns him not to expect much from a state shaped like a dick, but Dr Sunshine expects more, nevertheless, even from Florida. He is sorely perplexed that more-or-less the same thing is happening in Nevada, which doesn't even have the excuse of being a red state. It probably shouldn't be a surprise, though. Neither state's citizens think enough of themselves even to do something as simple as requiring gas stations to have vapor recovery boots on their pumps to reduce, at least a little, the toxicity of the air in the neighborhood of the station. (Most states don't, actually, and the EPA has given up, too.) But, the people of California have required their legislature to look after many of their interests, including the advantages to both consumers and the planet of renewable energy. That makes in doubly hard to follow the reasoning of Dr Sunshine's many neighbors who haven't installed solar systems.

Why not? What's the matter with them? Do they dispute the settled science of climate change? Do they disagree with the U.S. military that climate change is a serious threat to political stability? Do they distrust people who do their homework and, instead, just take a shaman's word for it? (Maybe. Chris Hayes wrote a whole book about that.) Do they think solar panels that can lower their electric bills for twenty years will reduce the value of their townhouses? Whatever can it be? Dr Sunshine wishes he had an answer, but not as much as he wishes they, and the rest of the country, would change their minds.

Cheers
Dr Sunshine

Update, 12 June 2016: In it's first year, Dr Sunshine's solar system generated more electricity than he used and saved him $200.
Update, 17 June 2016: Solar is practical even in New England.
Update, 20 June 2016: Geothermal is practical, too, all over the US (details). Why stay with fossil fuels?
Update, 21 January 2017: Second year, Dr Sunshine's solar panels did even better. Saved $350.

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