Solar Power is Much Cooler than it Used to Be

By: Brett Freeman , Contributing Writer
In: Green Renovations

Perhaps you’re old enough to remember the green movement of the late 1970s.

Residential solar then...

Residential solar then...

Spurred on by tax credits for investment in energy-efficient technology (not unlike those enacted in the recently-passed stimulus bill), anxiety over the global oil supply (actually, the anxiety, fed by OPEC oil embargoes in 1967 and 1973, was about the oil suppliers), and the 1979 Energy Crisis, Americans began taking hopeful steps towards energy independence. Solar panels appeared on rooftops. Wind turbines were erected in back yards. Detroit began to churn out fuel-efficient subcompact cars.

The green movement then was in many ways like the green movement now, only with louder clothes and bigger hair. Oh, and Detroit hasn’t really been on the ball this time around.

NOT sexy

NOT sexy

But there was another difference, one that bears as much responsibility for the death of the earlier green movement as the 1985 repeal of the tax credits: The gadgets last time around were lame. The solar panels resembled the glass sides of a dirty aquarium. The wind turbines were noisy and maintenance-intensive. Neither produced much energy. And no matter how many miles per gallon it got, a Chevy Chevette just ain’t sexy.

It’s different this time around. A perfect example of just how different is the photovoltaic (PV) roof shingle. Such shingles essentially turn your entire roof into a bank of solar panels, and, equally exciting, they look nothing like a dirty fish tank (although earlier versions did look kind of like fruit rollups).

There are a couple of really cool things things that have me excited about PV shingles. The first is the fact that people can now harness the sun’s energy in their homes without paying an aesthetic price. Whether you think human’s possess a noble nature or not, removing vanity as a reason not to go green can only be a good thing. Even better is that PV shingles have the potential to be part of a more comprehensive solution to energy independence. In most cases, PV roofs will be tied into the electrical grid. This keeps you wired at night, but it also allows you to sell your excess electricity to the electric company during the day, effectively

...residential solar now

...residential solar now

making your house a micro power plant. But consider what thousands of such micro power plants could achieve on a macro scale: during the day, when power needs overall are highest, but homes are generally empty so that residential demand is light, urban infrastructure could some day be largely powered by suburban-produced solar energy.

The idea isn’t that far-fetched: industrial giant Dow Chemical Co. is investing heavily in PV shingle production, which should make the technology both more affordable and more ubiquitous. A company executive says the hope is that PV shingles will become the industry standard in new home construction.

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  1. 10 Responses  to “Solar Power is Much Cooler than it Used to Be”

  2. Aug 29, 2011
    The solar paneling in combination with asphalt shingles looks great! Always love to see how the technology is advancing. How resistant are these panels to extreme weather conditions? In Houston we can get hurricane force winds and occasional hail. How will these hold up? Houston Roofers
  3. Aug 29, 2011
    You posts a great how to here.
  4. Aug 29, 2011
    Finally, perhaps the most important consideration is price. There are a lot of people who can’t even wrap their brain around purchasing solar power devices right now because of the sheer cost of it. - on the contrary, I think state rebates and federal tax credits help ease this problem. in fact, i think more and more legislation is being passed to motivate people to turn to greener sources of energy.
  5. Aug 29, 2011
    Solar Power is so cool. it is clean and renewable energy. when the cost of solar panels goes down, i think every home should be owning a mini solar power station.
  6. Aug 29, 2011
    No doubt to invest for PV if you have enough budget, it's convenience and many provider ready for support installing.
  7. Uncle B
    Aug 29, 2011
    A free power-source I can own! Love it! Some are "modular", I can add to them over the years in stead of paying ridiculous mortgage rates on them, and build them up into a huge power-source, in a world where appliances are getting frugal with power! Old folks microwaving water for tea in the evening makes sense, especially if the power is their own! We Americans can live on much less, and be more happy, if we just vote with our dollars and ignore the ads that insist on V-8 powered cars, or cars at all, and all the other crap they say we need, and let high technology help us get past the vulture capitalists that would have us live otherwise! Solar installations are the last great expression of independence we have been looking for! Off-Grid Americans will have very different ideas, and being Americans, will certainly express them, once we cut the cord, and own something besides huge unpayable manipulated mortgages and SUV's and their planned obsolescence. Solar cells, wind turbines, and gardening will set us free from the cancer our democracy suffers from - vulture capitalists and their sick practices. We must vote to regulate the asses off of theses bastards, and buy solar cells, wind turbines, and grow gardens to escape their clutches. These are the weapons of the hour and they will work!
  8. Lucy
    Aug 29, 2011
    There was an interesting article in last weekend's NYT's magazine (4.5.09, sorry can't find a link to it) called "Panel Discussion" about buying into solar power and the potential appeal of collective buying. Talks a lot about a San Francisco company called 1BOG that tries to get communities to "solar up" with group purchase discounts of 20% or more. The first successful effort was in SF and involved 41 residents. Pretty cool! Will be interesting to see if this concept takes off.
  9. Kerry Hoffman
    Aug 29, 2011
    Thanks, Brett. I'm old enough to have seen the All in the Family episode you mention, but perhaps too old to remember. Nevertheless, I appreciate the further insight on the PV shingle marketplace. The incentives make sense. Reminds me of what Toyota was doing in 2001 with the Prius. Wish I would have bought one back then...
  10. Aug 29, 2011
    Prices are high but falling. Like much of the best green technology, the up front cost is daunting, but after a few years you are in the black. $15K is probably a good ballpark number, but there will also be some great opportunities in the coming years. Dow is encouraging power companies to offer free installation (they will make their money back from excess power returned to the grid), and there could well be heavy discounts offered when their product first hits the market in 2011. The people producing PV shingles aren't trying to create a niche market, they're trying to own the marketplace, and they will offer ridiculous deals initially to establish a foothold. Are you old enough to remember the "All in the Family" episode when Archie gets conned by the aluminum siding salesman (Free Installation!!!)? It's like that, except that PV shingles are actually worth investing in.
  11. Kerry Hoffman
    Aug 29, 2011
    One thing you didn't mention is cost. I know the return depends largely on where a person lives (how sunny it is) and the local electricity rates. The most recent research I've done suggests that the cost will run about 15,000, and even with the new federal and state tax incentives that's still pretty far out of my reach. I'm happy that Dow is investing in PV so heavily. I never thought I'd be happy about anything Dow is doing.