Solar power’s contribution to the United States’ energy mix comes in two primary forms: 1) utility scale solar such as the recently completed Ivanpah and Crescent Dunes power generating stations which supply power to the existing electrical grid and which is indistinguishable from electricity generated by other fuel sources, and 2) distributed solar from rooftop solar systems or community solar gardens which is primarily used for local houses or businesses that have installed the system. Although both forms of power generation are growing at rapid rates, industry experts see distributed solar as having the greatest potential.
This has lead to one of the major arguments against solar power – its reputation as being only for the rich. In general one must be wealthy enough to invest significant capital to install and own a rooftop solar system and gradually recoup the investment over time via lower electricity bills. More recently, solar installation companies are offering deals to homeowners in wich the company effectively owns the system and supplies the owner power at a fixed price over an agreed period of time. This new practice has allowed many middle class families to have access to less expensive solar power, but one must still own a home and have an acceptable credit rating. That leaves the poor and much of the middle class out. The problem gets worse as more and more distributed solar is installed because the utilities’ fixed costs for plants, equipment, and distribution lines that must now be distributed amongst fewer and fewer customers using grid power, i.e., the poorer customers.
To help address this issue, the Obama Administration on July 7th announced a new initiative and set of executive actions to increase access to solar energy for low- and moderate- income communities. Included is a tripling of the goal for installation of solar systems in federally subsidized housing. The initiative also focuses on developing community solar systems, primarily in lower income communities.
OWOE sees this as another key step in the process of moving the US down the path to a renewable energy economy. In addition to the direct impact of making distributed solar power available to more Americans, it puts the US government squarely on the side of those who have been pushing State governments, public utility commissions, and the electrical power utilities to support distributed solar power through public policy, regulations, and business plans. While these executive actions do not solve the utilities’ problems with how to deal with expensive infrastructure, they effectively set the US government’s expectation that they must be solved, and sooner, rather than later. And, equally importantly, they help take the argument that the problem is one of rich vs. poor off the table.
See more details on the initiative at: White House Fact Sheet on Solar Power Initiative