The sun is a fusion reactor in the sky, raining sunshine down on the planet free of charge. But when home renovation specialist and TV personality Jonathan Scott went to install a rooftop solar system on his Las Vegas home, he came face to face with the realities of the monopolistic utility model in Nevada.
The struggles he encountered with his own solar install lit a fire under Jonathan and as he peeled back the layers of the onion, the ugly realities of the US utility model emerged. Having grown accustomed to running head on into unforeseen problems from his work in home renovations, Jonathan let his curiosity and frustration lead him deeper into the mire.
What he found left him frustrated and made his desire to channel his frustration into positive action difficult. He turned to his roots in television, assembling a team to create what would eventually become the documentary Power Trip. The film takes viewers on a journey from the installation of Jonathan’s rooftop solar system all the way down the pipes to the bottom feeders at Koch Industries and massive utility investors like Berkshire Hathaway.
At the crux of the issue, the capitalistic and regulatory models established to ensure stable electricity supply to homeowners have resulted in a bias against new energy generation models. Installing rooftop solar on a home eliminates or drastically reduces the need for a utility to generate power for that home. These home also have the potential to feed power back into the grid, making the integration of rooftop solar into the grid more challenging for utilities.
In short, rooftop solar at scale upends the centralized generation model of most utilities. It represents competition and in capitalism, competition only exists to be crushed.
In this case, rooftop solar power generation not only competes directly with utility power generation, it ushers in the ability to generate zero emission power where it is used. The world needs to quickly decarbonize if it is to have any hope of averting some of the worst impacts of climate change. Human activity has pumped massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere and that’s warming the planet. Generating power locally with rooftop solar is a very practical, affordable step homeowners can take to reduce their carbon footprint.
After his installation, Jonathan’s local utility changed the way they handled residential solar power being pushed back to the grid, flipping the economics of rooftop solar upside down overnight. Backlash from the establishment is normal as people around the world embrace technology that improves the quality of life, but we must push to identify compromises to encourage continuous innovation.
Jonathan’s journey started with what should have been a simple rooftop residential installation and took him on a journey into the netherworlds of capitalism. He spoke with coal miners and found that much of the resistance to renewables like solar stems from the simple is buried in personal stories and coal mining culture in many parts of the country.
Change is hard and that becomes all to evident when Jonathan sits down with a retired coal miner. At first, the miner talks about how he would love nothing more than to have his children follow in his footsteps as a coal miner. After talking through the proposition and the realities of the black lung that is often associated with mining coal, he walks his statement back. It’s a brutal conversation that paints the conflict between being proud of the legacy and history of coal mining and the ugly realities of the impact of coal mining on miners.
When Jonathan partnered with Sunrun to install his home system, the install itself was a seamless process. Unpacking the massive potential of solar and the very real issues in the market that are currently getting in the way of installing more solar for more homeowners across the country is a frustrating look at the issue.
Change is hard, and while Power Trip illustrates many of the issues homeowners face when exploring solar for their home, superior technologies like solar will prevail. I highly recommend tuning in to watch Power Trip as Jonathan Scott walks through the muck and the mire of corporate power, dirty air, and a bright and shiny solar-powered future.
Jonathan Scott’s Power Trip premieres on PBS’s Independent Lens on Monday, Nov. 16 at 10PM (check local listings) and will also be available to stream on the PBS Video App.