Saving the Planet One Roof at a Time

Posted by Neville Williams

Aug 19, 2009 8:59:00 AM

Residential solar panels can save the planet

In 2004 I read an article in Mother Jones Magazine by Bill McKibben, one of America's foremost environmental authors ("The End of Nature," "Deep Economy"), entitled "One Roof At A Time." The piece detailed how solar power was "edging into the mainstream" because, with little help from government, people were putting solarelectric systems on their rooftops all over the country.

I was thrilled to see this public endorsement of what I believed was a growing phenomena: people's desire to "go solar" because they wanted to "do something" about global warming. Solar is something you can do.

At the time, I was in the throes of launching a new company, Standard Solar, which aimed to focus in a professional way on the growing market for solar home systems. Our intention was to raise enough money to create a company that could make it easy for homeowners to purchase solar power systems for their homes (while also serving small businesses). Solar "practitioners" were called "tinkerers" by detractors, small mom & pop operations that often could not get product nor offer reduced prices. Our approach to selling solar succeeded beyond our wildest dreams because McKibben was right - the future of solar was now!

And today the "now" of solar is bigger than ever.

None of this would have been possible before net-metering, the policy in over 40 states today requiring utilities to buy home produced solar power. And it wouldn't have happened without the fear of man made climate change brought to everyone's attention by Hurricane Katrina, Al Gore's "Inconvenient Truth", and the increase in electricity prices. Our company gambled that enough people wanted solar power - and wanted to cut their household electric bill and their home's carbon footprint by purchasing a grid-tied solar power system. Today consumers continue this trend, by the hundreds of thousands nationwide, in every state. (An average 4.2kW solarelectric system will displace 164 tons of carbon emissions over it's 30 year life, equal to planting 2.18 acres of trees.)

Residential solar growing

We hear a lot about "big" solar installations on auto plants, supermarkets, warehouses, municipal buildings, and corporate headquarters, as well as about numerous "utility scale" multi-megawatt photovoltaic projects around the world. But we don't hear much about solar homes because they are small - averaging 3 to 7 kilowatts each. Yet revenue from the sale of residential solarelectric systems is growing twice as fast as commercial and industrial-scale solar. The U.S. residential solar market is projected by experts to be the largest untapped solar market in the world. The best part: decentralized solar home systems provide power to the people, directly.

Today, solar markets are served by hundreds of small to medium sized solar installer businesses, like Standard Solar. Solar panels are provided by big companies like Suntech, SunPower, Sharp, Kyocera, Solarworld, BP Solar, Mitsubishi, Schott, Evergreen and United Solar. Most are foreign owned, but many have built U.S. manufacturing plants. However, the sales and installation side of the business is largely in the hands of small to medium players, entrepreneurs all, and their business is booming. (There are simply not enough solar installers.) And now, with the 30% Federal Income Tax Credit for solar PV (both residential and commercial), along with many State and County tax credits and other incentives, the argument that solar is "too expensive" is no longer valid. Electricity prices will continue to increase while solar prices continue to fall. So if you can afford a home, and if you have an unshaded south-facing roof or large yard, you can't afford not to go solar.

If you want to know more, get a copy of "Got Sun? Go Solar". Or explore more about residential solar energy and solar panel installation on

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