What do you do if you are protesting corporate greed in the Nation’s Capital and spending the night in McPherson Square? Do you fire up that old diesel generator that is going to contribute to global warming? Surely not, when there are solar energy alternatives. One of the protesters visited SolarTown’s offices.What solar power products do you have for me, she asked. Like a lot of customers who call us, she wanted to find out what solar energy products you can use off the grid. She purchased a portable solar shower—make that two, she said. It is sunny today in Washington, DC, but unseasonably cold. So if you want to see some protestors across from the White House bathing in warm water from a portable solar shower, you should get down to McPherson Square today. Dress warmly.
Archive for October, 2011
Is this any way to drive an industry? The answer is a resounding no. The US has virtually no federal renewable energy policy, and almost by accident has become a major solar market in the world despite itself. Many naysayers like to frame the argument in terms of subsidies and handouts, but virtually all forms of energy get some form of governmental support, which for those industries is called policy—somehow people call it subsidies when referring to support for the solar industry and other renewable energy. What makes the solar energy industry special is the extent to which it has had to depend on a patchwork of state and local incentive structures that are as fragile as the state and local budgets to which they are beholden. As local budgets tighten, the windows close leaving many homeowners out of luck and out of patience. Only those who have been able to maneuver their way to the front of the line get the reward. As states cut back on their budgets, solar support has become precarious. Underfunded and handled on a state-by-state basis, failed incentives are leaving homeowners who want to put solar panels on their homes out in the cold and the market unstable and unpredictable. There is a clear need for a stable, long-term federal incentive structure and Congress and the Administration should see that it is in the interest of the country to forge this policy sooner than later.
The whirl of events have left even the closest market observers shaking their heads in disbelief at how much has changed in the solar industry over the past several months. The solar industry is one of the fastest growing industries in the United States. Just how much is the solar energy business growing in the US. Well, a lot if you are counting watts. If you take the second quarter of 2010, 186 megawatts was installed; 2011, 314 megawatts, or an increase of 69%. The irony is that despite this explosive growth in the solar industry and a lot more people putting solar panels on their roofs, solar companies are getting hammered. Their margins are being squeezed and they are not making much money. I am not even talking about the woes of Evergreen Solar, which filed for bankruptcy and is down 99% year-to-date. We won’t even talk about the spectacle of Solyndra, the financial problems of which may only be the least of the problems for some of the executives there. (When the FBI comes knocking on your door, they are usually not bringing gifts.) If you are or were an investor in solar energy stocks, don’t even look at your stock holdings unless you want to barf up your breakfast. But if you are a homeowner interested in a home solar panel system, you may still be smiling as prices have come way down.
You think that the solar industry is just emerging. Well, you may be right, but don’t tell that to the people who have been on the solar home tours for the past 21 years. The 21st Annual Metro Washington, D.C. Tour of Slar and Green Homes took place this past weekend, and if you missed this solar home tour or the one in your area, then you missed out on seeing some of the vibrant solar homes that have taken the solar challenge. This year’s solar home tours, like the Solar Decathlon on the National Mall a week before, was not blessed with sunny weather, but that did not deter the spirits of those who wanted to check out the solar home panels, and solar water heater systems throughout the DC metro region. Despite the rain, solar homeowners were eager to show off their energy efficient houses and to show that, even when it is not sunny, their solar arrays help save on energy costs.