At the present time, there are admittedly a few drawbacks to solar energy power plants, the primary one being cost; a kilowatt hour of electricity from a solar facility can cost 400% more than that same hour derived from a fossil fuel plant.
Another problem faced by the solar energy industry is the fact that polysilicon, the primary component of a photovoltaic cell, is becoming increasingly rare and correspondingly expensive. In addition, the federal government remains intricately linked to the oil and gas industries. This means that unlike the railroads of the 19th Century and the auto industry of the 20th, both of which benefited greatly from government largess, the construction of new solar energy power plants will rely on state and local resources and the efforts of entrepreneurs able to see past their own immediate self-interest.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that the cost of solar energy is gradually falling. It appears that by 2020, or perhaps even sooner, solar power will reach grid parity with tradition methods of electricity generation. Much of this advancement will require hard work and out-of-the-box thinking, however.
One assumption that is frequently made is that solar power plants must be large, centrally-located facilities like their fossil-fueled counterparts. This is not only impractical in most regions of the country, it’s not even necessary nor desirable. A much more practical and realistic approach is to create small solar energy generators for individual homes and buildings.
This approach is already being used in Europe. In Germany, the government provides homeowners with subsidies and low-interest loans, along with what are known as “feedback tariffs.” A feedback tariff is the amount of money a power company must pay to a homeowner for any excess electricity fed back into the grid. In essence, individual homeowners own and operate their own miniature solar power plants – at close to no cost.
This type of local integration does not seem like an immediate possibility in the United States at a federal level. However, there may be hope at the state level, particularly in California where Sacramento has moved forward aggressively on solar energy and feedback tariff programs.
And as some pundits say, as goes California – eventually, so goes the country.