Image credit: Tommi Grover
Not long ago, my parents installed a sizable solar array on their home in England. Now my brother has just emailed with photos of his own installation. What's going on? Besides providing more evidence that solar feed-in tariffs are kick starting major growth in the industry, it is also evidence that peer-pressure, competition, and the desire to beat your little brother can all be harnessed to make the world a better place.True, I may have gotten there first with an installation of solar hot water, and we know that clothes lines should come before solar panels. Yet I can't deny that hearing from both my brother and my Dad about how they are now producing their own electricity has piqued just a faint hint of jealousy. As I noted when my parents took the plunge, solar power, and specifically solar photovoltaics, is a fascinating technology that really transforms our relationship to energy.
Just this little snippet from my brothers' email reveals how wrong it is to focus on solar purely from a cost vs. conventional energy standpoint. Once again we see how generating your own electricity can be an engaging experience:
I now have new toys. All connected by 3pm, I've already generated at least 1.4 units. Or in money terms about 60p. Given the investment of about 6000 pounds, I reckon that's 0.01% of my investment recovered already!
The question is, of course, how do we harness both engagement and competition as drivers for more renewable energy? We've already seen one whole town trying to go solar, which will presumably generate a sense of "keeping up with the Joneses" within the community itself, not to mention some competition with other towns. Similarly we're seeing countries pushing hard for major utility-scale solar installations.
Solar advocates would do well to focus on ways to both help owners of solar installations, be they residential or industrial, to better understand the energy generate, and to also find ways to communicate this to the outside world. We may find that the design of energy monitors and display systems is at least as important as the solar panels themselves. I can just imagine what my brother would do with a Twitter-enabled solar monitoring system...
Besides generating more demand for solar, it's always a fun thing to annoy your little brother. Right?