September 3rd, 2020 by Zachary Shahan
Rooftop solar power has come down in price tremendously in the past decade, and in the decades leading to that one. As I noted the other day, solar panels were approximately 9× more expensive in 2006 than in 2019. That means two things, and the second one is definitely not commonly realized.
First of all, that means that rooftop solar power is a logical financial choice for many more households. It could save them a lot of money. Secondly, that means a large number of people have no idea how cheap solar has gotten.
The thing is: when the price of something changes rapidly, if it’s not already a popular consumer good, it’s easy for people to not realize it’s much cheaper now than it was a relatively short time ago. If I checked on the price of rooftop solar 5 years ago, didn’t find it to be financially appealing enough, and then didn’t follow this industry closely, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t have a clue that solar has become much cheaper since then.
Given that awareness is probably the #1 barrier to quicker solar power adoption, a handful of solar companies and organizations have come together to launch a new consumer awareness campaign. It will focus on this topic of cost, but it will also focus on a few other under-acknowledged benefits of rooftop, local, and community solar power.
As noted in the headline, the campaign is called the Local Energy for All campaign. Here’s a bit more about it:
“Local Energy for All’s mission is to create a safer, more affordable, and more equitable way to supply power to our communities,” a press release states. “The campaign is focused on promoting the benefits of local, clean energy production and encouraging federal and state governments to accelerate the development of a more decentralized, distributed energy system.”
Aside from relative low cost and financial savings that solar power can offer individuals, it can also make the grid more stable and secure, can cut enormous public health costs that come from pollution, can drive significant local economic growth, and can improve energy independence across the country. But who in your circle of friends and family actually knows that?
“When we looked at the energy industry as a whole, we noticed that few outside of academia were promoting the significant value that distributed energy resources bring to the grid, environment, consumers, and local economies,” said Jeff Cramer, Executive Director of the Coalition for Community Solar Access. “We’re here to help policymakers and regulators understand the benefits of distributed resources and speed up the transition to a cleaner, more modern electric grid while maximizing cost-effectiveness and economic opportunity for everyone.”
Getting more specific, this is what the “Local Energy For All” campaign is aiming to tell the American public:
- Lower energy bills. Locally produced energy saves homeowners, renters, and businesses money.
- Job creation and economic impact. Local energy creates good-paying jobs in communities across the United States. Local solar also provides economic opportunities for farmers through land leases and provides significant tax revenue to local municipalities, which in turn can fund local public services and infrastructure improvement projects.
- Reduced grid costs. By generating energy closer to the consumer, local solar reduces demand for costly, large-scale utility transmission and distribution infrastructure (“poles & wires”).
- A more resilient grid. Local solar energy, especially when paired with battery storage, will make the electric grid more resilient to weather, climate, and large-scale disruptions. Instead of relying on giant power plants and the poles and wires to transmit power hundreds of miles, a distributed grid of local solar facilities can even out the electric load and reduce outages.
- More consumer access and choice. Millions of Americans want access to solar energy but there are artificial barriers in nearly every market that stifle competition and limit innovation. Increasing access to local solar allows people to take more control of their own electricity and save money on their electricity bills.
- More equitable participation. Everyone with an electric bill can directly participate in and benefit from rooftop and community solar. With intentional action including policy and programming support, local energy includes low-wealth communities who have been most impacted by pollution from traditional power plants.
- Continued innovation. Expanding the electric market beyond traditional utilities creates opportunities for competition, innovation, and more equitable access to the benefits of renewables. This will lead to more efficient products, faster deployment of renewables, increased savings for the customer, and greater economic benefits.
Rooftop solar is one thing, but many of us can’t easily “go solar.” Many of us live in apartment buildings, don’t own our own homes, have gigantic trees shading our roofs and don’t want to cut them down, or face other barriers to going solar. That’s where “community solar” steps in. It allows people to invest in a small (or large) solar farm as a means of solarizing their electricity.
“Community solar, the fastest-growing segment within the solar industry, refers to local solar facilities shared by multiple subscribers who receive credits on their electricity bills for their share of the power produced. Rooftop solar gives people the ability to generate their own power on their own property and potentially store it in a battery for 24/7 resilience even in the event of grid outages. Both rooftop and community solar help customers lower their monthly utility bills.”
Companies and organizations involved with the “Local Energy For All” campaign include the following: Coalition for Community Solar Access, Vote Solar, Solar United Neighbors, Sunrun, SunPower, Engie, IGS, Sunnova, and probably others.
What’s not entirely clear at this point is how the “Local Energy For All” campaign is aiming to raise consumer and industry awareness, or what it intends to do on the policy front if it intends to work on matters in that arena at all. It is not simply launching a website and newsletter, I presume. Though, at the moment, if you go to the site and click the “Take Action” button, it simply gives you the option to sign up for updates.
What would I do to try to solve the awareness challenge? Hmm. I think the following solutions could go a long way:
- major TV and YouTube commercial buys
- fun, eye-popping “flash mob” kind of events with popular actors and musicians (gotta make it somewhat radical and fun — not just any other bland marketing campaign)
- electric vehicle giveaways
- native advertising in popular Netflix shows and movies
Some of those efforts — especially if implemented on a decent scale — cost a lot of money. But if companies and organizations want to get beyond the early-adopter phase, they have to go beyond what they’ve done so far.
And what about Tesla? Tesla is one of the largest solar installers in the USA and seemingly now offers the cheapest rooftop solar power in the country in most places. Furthermore, Tesla’s recent switch to a simple, straightforward pricing system while capitalizing on Elon Musk’s top-tier social media influence has gotten Tesla’s solar division quite a bit of attention lately at almost no cost. Nonetheless, I think Tesla (which is not a part of the “Local Energy For All” campaign) also struggles to bring enough interest to solar power. Cars are much sexier and easier to get consumers excited about. We’ll get a better sense of how successful Tesla has been at bringing more customers to solar power in Tesla’s next quarterly shareholder letter and report. And hopefully we’ll also soon see more from the Local Energy For All campaign on its efforts to raise awareness around rooftop and community solar. Presumably, if the campaign goes well, Sunrun, SunPower, and others will report a strong increase in solar installations around the country in their next shareholder reports.
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