Home Solar Power = This Century’s Automobile

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Originally published on Cost of Solar.

solar power for homesPhoto Credit: DECCgovuk / CC BY-ND

Solar power for homes is just getting rolling. It is projected to grow many times over in the coming decades and even simply in the coming few years. When discussing this, it’s hard to come up with a great analogy. We often mention that it is a disruptive technology at the beginning of a steep growth curve, and then compare it to smartphones, cell phones in general, computers, DVD players, etc. However, it’s hard to capture the broad effect a rooftop solar power revolution will really have.

I think one of the best analogies out there — one that just came to my mind — is an analogy to the mainstream acceptance and growth of automobiles in the 20th century. The key point of difference in this analogy is that solar power will have a positive effect on our environment, air quality, climate, pocketbooks, etc. (Automobiles have had the opposite effect.) However, in many other respects, there’s a lot in common there.

Transportation and power are two of the largest portions of the average household budget. Behind each of those are massive societal and industrial networks that shape and “decorate” our cities and countries. They are such a core element of our societies that we sometimes look over their presence altogether, the same as we often do with air and water… until something changes.

Automobiles changed the way people spent their days, altered their household budgets, transformed what many people do for recreation, changed who people interacted with and how many people they interacted with on a daily basis, and even changed in which industries a lot of people worked. The effects are so widespread and have so many ramifications that a series of books could be written on the topic.

Solar power for homes is starting to have a similarly impressive effect on society. The rooftop revolution is just starting, but utilities are already acknowledging that the monopolistic, centralized business model they have historically lived by is under threat. A democratization of the production of electricity has started. People are realizing they can be in charge of their electricity future, and are also learning to save a lot more electricity in order to make the most of their solar power systems. Solar power for homes is changing the ways households, utilities, cities, and countries approach one of the fundamental elements of our lives.

No one really knows all the ways in which this will change our society, just as no one could foresee all the ways automobiles would change our society. Though, we do know that solar power for homes will make our air and water much cleaner, help stop global warming, save millions of homeowners money, and put more power into the hands of the populous. Exciting stuff!

Join the solar rooftop revolution!

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Zachary Shahan

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], ChargePoint [CHPT], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], Albemarle Corporation [ALB], Nouveau Monde Graphite [NMGRF], Talon Metals [TLOFF], Arclight Clean Transition Corp [ACTC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.

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14 thoughts on “Home Solar Power = This Century’s Automobile

  • Zachary,

    I appreciate the title you used for this article. There are opposite effects of Solar power for home & automobiles on the societies. However, there is still similarity in both of them on our daily life.

    I agree with your point that Solar Power will certainly make air & water cleaner, help stop global warming, save millions of money of homeowners. Also hope that, it becomes true ASAP.

  • I think a better analogy might be that of the indoor toilet. There was a time when everyone had a dunny out the back, but these days a house without indoor plumbing is no longer regarded as fit for use.

    Many people scoffed at the first people in the street to bring the toilet inside, deriding them as show-offs and poseurs.

    In a very few years any building which doesn’t generate and store its own electricity will be quaint, at best, and due for a complete retro-fit to bring it up to standard.

    For the moment I’ll save my scoffing for the new house going in down the street on which all of the roofs slope to the south!

  • It’s more like the personal computer from the early 90’s (it’s a solid state technology), but automobile works.

    Similar to the car and computer it greatly benefits from the ‘network effect’. As solar rises, it will also carry storage with it through the same effect.

  • I like your analogy to a car. Like a car there are many parts to it that we will not have control or understanding of. And like a car it will be large and perhaps an entire room will need to be dedicated to it.

    We need solar panels for PV on the outside. We will also need a way to store the excess energy to keep us off the grid. Probably the size of a 10×20 storage unit. That holds compressed air, batteries, or some other way of holding the energy. At some point in the future we might not think anything of holding this container in a separate room or as part of the garage. Much like we think nothing of a garage for holding a car.

    • People who think living off the grid is our future ought to try it out for a couple of years and realize that it’s a lot more than hooking some solar panels to batteries.

      The grid is a pretty wonderful thing. A bit flawed and needing upgrading, yes, but the ability to share hydro dams, wind turbines, NG turbines and eventually large scale storage is a good thing. Going it alone is inefficient.

      • Yes. However there are many places in the world where the grid is not easily available. It is not always like the suburbs in America.

        • I have my own experiences with living without indoor plumbing and electricity. Well after being a grown up as well as a child. Growing up when I was quite young we had a two-holer and a pitcher pump on the kitchen counter.

          When I built my first house I started by building a very small cabin and used an outhouse as well as an outdoor shower.

          But that’s now what we’re talking about. Setting each building up as a standalone energy system is simply not efficient based on the technology we have. Solar alone would require massive battery storage. Running backup generators isn’t a reasonable solution to extended cloudy weather.

          • Times have changed but it may turn around with regards to electricity. Solar and storage are becoming a factor. As you have pointed out many times solar and storage are becoming very cheap. If this trend continues we may see people opting off the grid because it is cheaper for them. Not to mention they like to be independent. Or for other reasons. Just to be perfectly clear I’m not talking about starting up a generator. I’m talking decades out, but during this coming century, much like the auto was not something that happened immediately.

            I think everybody should have the experience of living close to the earth. In my opinion it is a very useful perspective.

          • Solar is already very very cheap. In fact, it is the cheapest form of electricity out there today.
            People forget to include the subsidies for oil. We have lost thousands of lives and spent trillions of dollars defending oil trade. When these costs are added to imported oil, the cost is astronomical. Coal has a lot of pollution costs in the burning and the mining operations. CO and CO2 gases are not something we can continue to produce on such a wide scale. If burning coal means losing Florida, I’m not sure you can justify it.

          • Actually wind is a bit cheaper than solar. CCNG is cheaper than solar in most markets (ignoring the external costs of NG).

          • “If burning coal means losing Florida, I’m not sure you can justify it.”

            Tell you what. Put the pluses in one column and minuses in another and then weight each and then tell me if it is really acceptable. Remember they lost most of their orange trees a long time ago so you’ll have to take that off the plus column. 🙂

      • The grid is the storage device. It is exactly what we need and is only tapped out in a few communities. The grid is our storage device for another 10 years or maybe more if we get a smart grid going.

        • Calling the grid a storage device is a bit of a misuse of terms. If one has panels on their roof the grid is the cheapest way to fill in during the non-sunny hours, but that power is (largely) not stored. It’s generated fresh as we demand it.

  • As people learn that going solar PV can be a risk-less investment that can return in excess of 10% (without subsidies) or more if you put no money up front and yet get a return from nothing invested, they will continue to adopt solar at a greater pace.

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