Residential Solar Power And The Green New Deal

20% of all US energy consumption happens at home. While we will need laws and politics (and lots of both) to deal with the other 80%, we as individual can make a real difference. And really, nobody is going to take care of that 20% for us. If it’s going to get done, we’re going to have to do it.

The idyllic solution of course would be solar panels on every roof with a tracking mount to follow the sun, feeding not only the immediate electricity needs of the house below it, but charging the standalone battery that will be used to recharge the electric car when it gets home. And there are a lot of homes that could do this. But not enough, sadly.

Time to roll out the numbers: There are currently 136 million households in the United States. Of that number, more than half–about 70 million–are single family detached houses. That means the rest are apartments, condos, etc.

If you’re a renter, the landlord won’t let you put a solar panel on her or his roof. And s/he is not likely to do it–you’re paying the electricity bill and solar panels won’t affect his/her income. Worse, most apartments are taller than they are wide. Even with a good-hearted landlady and hefty subsidies from government, you couldn’t get enough panels on the roof to take a big bite out of the electricity bill.

Plus, for both single family houses and apartments, in most states solar tapers off big time from late fall through mid spring–right when electric heaters see the most usage.

Then there are the costs–a 6 KW panel set up can range from a low of $14,400 in Florida to a high of $21,840 in New York. (That’s after deducting the 30% federal tax credit, but before applying any state or local subsidies.) A new and improved Tesla PowerWall 2.0 battery lists for $7,800 with supporting hardware, and installation can run between $2,000 and $8,000. Electric cars range from $22,490 for a Nissan Leaf to about $72,000 for a Tesla Model X.

So a thrifty (and fortunate) Floridian can achieve our idyllic status for the low, low price of $46,690, while an extravagant New Yorker wanting to impress the neighbors might fork out as much as $109,640.

Well, the median income in Florida is $52,549, while in New York it is $64,894. Might be a tough sell…

Of course you can lease all this equipment and save on your electricity while you pay off the lease–and that is currently the most popular way to get renewable energy in your household. But even so, despite the very real declines in solar pricing, it’s… well… a tough sell.

But it has sold. Slightly more than 1 million homes have solar panels on the roof, and that number increases pretty much daily. Tesla and its dozen or so competitors may have sold about 200,000 home batteries. And there are about a million electric cars on U.S. roads. People want renewable energy. They just have to be able to afford it.

We trust markets–well regulated and supervised markets, that is. And as incomes keep rising and as renewable costs keep falling, the market should be able to handle the situation for single family housing.

The issue nobody has addressed is multi-family housing units. How do we align incentives for landlords and tenants to join forces and get as much solar on the rooftops (and possibly the walls, with wall-mounted solar) of apartment buildings?

That’s the make or break issue for reducing emissions in the residential sector. We haven’t cracked this one yet–but we’re working on it.


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