Image credit: Marjukka Grover, used with permission.
A few years back I wrote about my own experiences with installing solar water heating. Now my parents have got one up on me. The photo above is of the house I grew up in. As of two weeks ago, this house is partially powered by electricity from the sun. With the introduction of feed-in tariffs in the UK, my parents decided that it finally made ecological and economic sense to invest in solar power for their home. I think there may be lessons here for us all. I should say that my parents have been gradual but enthusiastic shifters toward a green(er) way of living. They composted, they walked and biked where they could, they insulated their home, and they started eating local, organic produce. I'm not sure whether any of this can be put down to my influence—nagging girlfriends can be an effective eco-catalyst, but I am not sure about nagging sons. What I do know is that they were ready, willing and interested in putting their money into renewables—but they needed a little support and encouragement to make it worthwhile.
Solar Not Cost Effective?
Some have argued that solar feed-in tariffs are a rip off, and that money would be better spent on wind and other more cost-effective strategies. But solar costs are coming down all the time, and if feed-in tariffs can help leverage investment from ordinary homeowners like my parents, then we will see crucial tipping points reached much faster than would otherwise be the case.
Direct Emissions Savings Just One Part of the Equation
Of course if we focus purely on a cost-per-unit-of-carbon-saved equation, then my parents—and any body else investing in solar—would do better off paying someone to install insulation or build a wind turbine. But this missing a crucial point—Solar panels are fun!
Solar Transforms Our Relationship to Energy
In the same way that someone might spend more than they need on an SUV, or a TV, homeowners are willing to spend money on solar because they get something for it. I'm not just talking about shiny solar they can show off to their neighbors either, but a real, tangible connection to the energy they produce and use. It turns the passive consumption of anonymous electricity into an active role of producing, monitoring and using your own energy. (I can just imagine the joy in my Dad's face as he watches the electric meter spin backwards!) Just as brewing your own beer or growing your own veggies changes your consumption patterns, generating your own electricity can be a great way to cut back on how much you use too.
It can also be a really good way of getting one up on your treehugging son...