While solar energy has rapidly expanded in the last five years, it has not come close to being a mainstream energy source. However, as President Obama pushes for more clean energy investment and generous incentives for installations remain, solar is poised for an even bigger surge. Even the White House is currently having solar panels installed as part of an energy retrofit. The installation is a follow through on the President’s previous promise to have them put in as a symbol of the positive future for clean energy.
Only about one percent of power in the United States is solar. However, the growth is impressive. In the last decade, solar power consumers went form virtually nonexistent to over 300,000 net-metered users. Net-metered solar panel owners use solar energy to offset their energy consumption with utilities, and during low energy use times can even sell excess energy back to the power company. In California, the growth is even more impressive, with more than half of new customers coming from middle and low-income neighborhoods.
Part of the reason for growth is that the price for panels has dropped significantly. While this created problems in the industry with manufacturers, solar companies are catching up and creating new markets to sell to. Tax incentives are also generous, and the idea of saving money in the long term has become more attractive to customers. Studies have also shown that neighbors are easily influenced once they know someone near them that uses solar energy.
Unfortunately, big utility companies are worried about solar disrupting the energy industry and have taken to lobbying against them. Utility interests have sponsored bills in California and lobbied state regulators to decrease incentives for solar customers. Energy companies in Arizona and Colorado have launched media campaigns against solar, calling it a high risk.