Los Angeles, my home and one of the most populated urban communities in the world, offers a potential source of massive rooftop solar real estate.
Yet, rarely do I see solar installed on the roof of any given home, business, school or other public facility.
Purely, simply, obviously, and easier to implement than we think, sun-belt households, whom I’ll call solar-belt households, should be using photovoltaics to generate and sell power to local utilities across the nation.
Local utilities, for their part, should be proactively soliciting residents in their communities for solar real estate for this very purpose; no, not “requiring by law” solar panels on every home, but contracting with local households to use rooftops to generate solar power – and – whether by direct or subcontracted, services, providing solar equipment, installation, wiring and maintenance at no charge, or perhaps in exchange for a nominal monthly fee to the owner, say $20 per month per household.
Beyond the profound patriotic aspect of a solar-belt solution, this particular answer to our nation’s energy problems would engender benefits far beyond nearly-free sun-power for said households:
- The complicated process of identifying and approving precious wilderness land for solar farms would be eliminated.
- Our energy grid would be less dependent on centralized installation sites for power generation. Rather, generation would be spread far and wide across the very regions being served. If one segment of this massive solar community has a cloudy day, or suffers a disaster of some sort, other segments could easily pick up the slack (as long as the regional grids remain connected).
- Sustained power loss at individual homes during disasters in the solar-belt would be virtually eliminated because each homeowner would be dependent on his/her own power generator.
- Rollout of electric cars could be sped up, and become more realistic from an energy-usage perspective, since households would be in a position to generate their own electric power for their own electric vehicles.
- Most significantly, even though a solar-belt solution might not provide enough energy to serve all energy needs 24/7/365, especially during rainy periods and harsh northern winters, a solar-belt solution would remove a significant portion of the energy burden from the volatile, polluting power resources: oil, coal, nuclear, gas, not only slowing down our gluttonous over-use of such resources, but giving the related industries and dependents the breathing room they need to facilitate a smooth transition to other, more sustainable energy production.
In my view, solar rollout should be treated the same as plumbing and electricity rollout, road paving, mass transit and phone line rollout were treated in the 20th century, as something close to being a natural right for all the people.
The solution is fairly simple:
- Continue to provide incentives for new solar businesses, and to educate new installers and engineers.
- Aggressively educate and inform the public about the tax incentives, long term benefits and ease of access to solar installation, similar to the way the public was educated about seat belts back in the day.
- Continue to tear down in communities nationwide public policies and municipal codes that have inhibited solar rollout in the past.
The USA can definitely afford a solar-belt solution, and it can be easily pulled off, if the same level of energy and ingenuity is applied as the amount elected officials put into election year campaigning, or strategizing a war, or developing any given piece of legislation.
If event producers can pull off a Superbowl and scientists can send us to the moon, then surely there is enough talent and organizational sensibility on hand to implement a solar-belt solution.
The beauty of the end-game would be (beyond a lot of new jobs and manufacturing opportunities in the short term): once done, a solar-belt solution will be done, ideally for as long as the sun shines in the sky.
Originally published March 21, 2011.