Virtually every aspect of our current electric grid is outdated. From the way we generate power to the distribution of that power to homes and businesses, our grid infrastructure is based on old technology that does not make sense in our modern world.
Consider how we generate the majority of our electricity: by burning coal and natural gas. Not only do these fossil fuel sources contribute to pollution and carbon emissions, they also dictate that power generation occur in a central location. This means that our distribution system must be tied into a central grid, which is why a single natural disaster such as a hurricane can cause blackouts for large areas of major cities. Our distribution system also consists of many overhead power lines that can be knocked down by falling trees – and can result in dangerous situations that regularly cause fatalities.
However, there is an alternative to our outdated system. Solar photovoltaic technology can reduce our dependence on the grid while reducing our carbon emissions. Solar power can be generated on the local level, by mounting panels directly on roofs. Combined with battery backup systems and decentralized micro-grids, blackouts can be a thing of the past. The cost of solar panels has fallen dramatically, by over 80 percent in the last five years. Thanks to federal and state incentives, solar panels can provide power at a cost competitive with conventional utility power in many states.
Given the advantages of solar power, there should be a stronger shift towards its widespread adoption than we’re currently seeing. But as a recent Op-Ed in the New York Times written by David Crane and Robert F Kennedy points out, the major utility companies have no interest in promoting solar technology when their own profits are based on the existing grid infrastructure. Giving their customers the ability to produce their own electricity would be contrary to their entire business model.
And regulatory issues further hinder the efficiency with which solar projects can be developed, due to complex permitting requirements that raise the cost of installations. In Germany, the regulatory process has been streamlined to the point that a solar project can be approved in as little as 8 days and with very low costs. If the regulations in the United States were more sensibly designed, we could put our country on the fast-track to transitioning to renewable energy.
However, even with current regulations and the entrenched opposition of the fossil-fuel industry, it’s still possible to speed up our adoption of solar power. Solar power is a smart investment: it leads us to grid independence, it reduces carbon emissions, and perhaps most importantly, it will lead to economic growth by creating jobs. American homeowners can push for this green vision for the future by investing in their own solar systems. The power is up to the individual. Solar is the new American dream.