I’ve always wondered why people don’t go with the long term solution. The more sustainable solution. And this thought propelled me to think about Solar Power. Primarily, solar power in households. Now, I started discussing the prospect of installing solar power at my family home.
I grew up in Nagpur, India. It’s a relatively small town in the middle of the country. It’s famous for its oranges, and unbearable heat. My parents live on the top floor of a 6 story apartment, in a posh neighborhood. We have a building garden, and a massive park in front so life is pretty comfortable here. There, however, is the problem of power shortage as we often face hours of electrical shutdown. Installing solar panels was a possible solution that we considered.
My parents often battled with the idea of installing solar power. They are environmentally conscious but found that solar power isn’t feasible at all. I decided to dig deeper into the economics of this situation to get a better perspective and here’s what I found:
- Lack of popular brands: Brands define the way we view a product or industry. When we think of mobile phones, it is easier to think it in terms of iPhone or Samsung Android. In the solar powered industry, it is difficult to figure out which companies are reliable and feasible. Marketing would likely be the first option to consider.
- Incompetent Technology: This may be true 10 years back, but solar power has comparable output to coal and is definitely a better solution for the environment. Rapid improvement in photovoltaics has not improvement the amount of electricity generated per unit area, but also reduced the cost significantly. The problem here is that people are aware of this improvement and still think of solar panels as an insufficient source to power their homes. Lack of awareness can be tackled by educating customers of recent development through marketing and educational programs.
- Confusion about costs: Energy costs are difficult to understand for most people. There is no uniform price structure and the companies often fail at informing the customers of the overhead and hidden costs. Lack of transparency in costs often deters customers.
- High set-up cost: The set-up cost in India is extremely high. While solar panels are affordable to the rich and wealthy, they often find themselves using alternatives because there isn’t enough monetary incentive to switch.People often think of short-term costs and immediate gain instead of the long term benefits/implications.
- Living in America, I’ve been a huge fan of SolarCity. Personally, the company is innovative not because it is owned by Elon Musk (huge fan!), but because of its payments options. The company offers customers with the option to loan or lease solar power rather than make significant investments. This allows households to reliably install solar panels and not worry about their bank balances.
- Government Incentives: Government incentives play a big role in the energy industry. The Indian government has provided incentives to its people to install solar panels, but corruption often limits the success of these initiatives.
- Corporate Initiatives: The countries that are enjoying solar power attribute their success to private funding in the energy industry. It’s imperative that venture capitalists and large corporations focus on funding projects/companies that aim to provide sustainable energy solutions. SolarCity has been able to often multiple payment options because of the massive funding it has received from various industry. Crowdfunding energy companies might be another option to consider.
- Long-term reliability: Providers of solar power need to provide warranty coverage to customers. The current source of electricity is the government and the people find government to be a relatively reliable organization. They are, however, skeptical about companies that they’ve never heard. Branding (as discussed above) plays a key role here.
There are obviously many more challenges that need to be overcome in the sustainable energy sector. This post sheds light (pun intended!) on some of the problems that I found when my parents were considering installing solar panels. And there has been development in this space, but there are still ways to go.
If we think about it, the earth has been solar powered for billions of years. The heat we receive from the sun has made life possible on earth. The idealist (engineer) in me hopes that one day we would able to build a Dyson Sphere to solve all our energy needs, but increasing our reliance on solar power is the first step in this process.
What are your thoughts on this?