Why solar simply makes sense

| 24 Jan 2018 | 11:40

    The renewable energy industry is booming. In terms of jobs, it has eclipsed, in numbers, those available in the traditional energy industry. Around the world, many countries are reaching staggering numbers in terms of their ability to generate clean, inexpensive, and renewable energy, effectively eradicating the demand for traditional energy sources, such as crude oil, coal, and so forth.
    In America, arguably the most-influential country in international energy politics, the fight to ween the country off of its longstanding love affair with ‘traditional’ energy sources has hit an interesting inflection point. The Obama administration’s progress on international renewable energy laws stands (or, at least, stood) as one of the presidency’s shining achievements. However, the current administration has all but taken two steps backwards on the issue, and the result has been an intensified effort by our national, and even worldwide, leaders to fight climate change in solidarity, with the rest of the world.
    With the advent of the ‘Clean Coal’ movement, and the appointment of Rex Tillerson, former CEO of ExxonMobil, as Secretary of State, it was immediately apparent that the Trump administration would be taking a significant detour from the progress in renewables under Obama. Of course, there is no such thing as ‘clean coal,’ and the argument can be made that ExxonMobil, as a wide-reaching, multinational monolith of the oil industry, has more political influence and power than many sovereignties around the world; the sad truth is that, as much progress as has been made, the world still craves oil, and the hunger is still growing. Of course, this does not even take into account Tillerson’s dubious relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, which underscores the dominance of the two countries in the oil business (at the time of this writing, the United States and Russia are in the top three oil-exporting countries in the world in terms of production, with Saudi Arabia holding the second spot just above the US). So, the question has become: can one of the world’s largest oil producers manage an impactful turnaround on renewable energy, or will it be lost in corporate interests and the everenticing black gold beneath us?
    In my opinion, the answer is yes. When Trump announced that he would renege on the Paris Climate Agreement in June of last year, the global response was nothing short of earthshattering. Energy executives, politicians, world leaders, and citizens alike united under the reinforced belief that renewable is the only way forward, and that it is time that the United States puts down its pickaxe and picks up some of the responsibility for the immense damages that ‘traditional’ energy sources have inflicted on our environment. In fact, there were even several indications in the coming months that Trump would reconsider America’s participation in the Accord, after a meeting with the (in)famous, young French President and so-called ‘Trump Whisperer of Europe,’ Emmanuel Macron. Whatever the case, America, as a prominent leader of the developed world, has a long road to recovery when it comes to clean energy.
    Nevertheless, the transition to renewables is not as intimidating as it sounds. In fact, it is something in which every American can participate. Yes, even you. That path? Solar power.
    As solar technologies have evolved, and traditional utilities have become exponentially more expensive, it only makes sense to invest in clean, inexpensive, and renewable solar power. A grueling industry, the solar industry has had a tumultuous journey that dates back several decades; it is only in recent years that solar panels have become accessible to the average American. How could that possibly be? Well, let me break it down for you.
    The Federal government now offers what is called a Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit. Put simply, the Fed will send homeowners a check equivalent to 30% of the value of the solar system that the homeowner has installed. For example, a $30,000 solar system would qualify a rebate of nearly $10,000 from the government, which can be claimed in your annual taxes. Sound too good to be true? Well, there’s more.
    Installing solar in a home requires what is known in the industry as a ‘net meter.’ Essentially, a net meter is a second power meter that sits alongside your traditional power meter, but calculates instead the amount of power that your solar system is producing. For the sake of making the process easier to conceptualize, the name ‘net’ meter is exactly as it sounds: if you produce more power than you use, then you don’t pay for traditional electricity; if you produce less, the difference is made up by traditional electricity from your existing utility. What’s more, in many states, and especially in New Jersey, the state government offers generous rebates in the form of Solar Renewable Energy Credits. In short, the state will pay you for the solar power that you produce. Oftentimes, this means that the homeowner is not only saving money from cheaper solar power, but their ownership of the system is actually generating income for them. Not a bad deal, if you ask me.
    So, how is all of this funded, you may ask? Well, the answer is simpler than you might think. The government, Solar Energy Developers, and traditional utilities have created a joint venture of sorts to move homeowners off of the grid, and lessen the impact of traditional power sources on the environment. The costly piece of the puzzle is real estate, and that is why
    solar is such an attractive option: it goes right on the roof, reducing the need to transport the power generated, and eliminating the need to refurbish or build new power grids. It’s almost like a blockchain for electricity: each home generates its own power, but remains connected to the main grid, as opposed to the power being generated in a large power plant, and subsequently transported to each home. Yes, cryptocurrency fanatics are going to blast me for that comparison, but it was simply too indulgent of an analogy to resist.
    Whether it is the Paris-sized oil spill off the coast of China, the life-threatening drought in Cape Town, South Africa, or the agonizing clips of starving polar bears succumbing to the erosion of their environment, the evidence that Mother Earth is desperate for a change has never been clearer. So, I will leave this last thought for you to consider. The next time that the topic of going solar arises for you or your family, repeat this question to yourself: why not?
    Michael Schiumo, energy consultant