Bioenergy, Solar

Selling Solar to Mainstream America

When the clock strikes midnight on January 1, 2007, SB 1, California’s new state law that provides $3.2 billion in funding to build a million solar roofs over the next ten years, will officially take effect. But in order for SB 1 to succeed — and the solar industry as a whole to continue to expand — it’s time to start marketing solar power as an accessible, aesthetically pleasing, and cost-effective product to the average consumer, according to California Senator Kevin Murray.

The technology is already here and it’s reliable, said Murray speaking at Solar Power 2006 in San Jose, but the message needs to be relayed to the general public that solar energy is not some future technology only celebrities or the extremely wealthy can afford. “It’s not a policy thing… Now we have to implement [SB 1] so that people begin to realize solar is something they can use everyday,” said Murray, author of the Million Solar Roofs bill, which was signed into law as SB 1 by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in August. SB 1 provides a long-term commitment and $3.2 billion in funding to leverage private investment to deploy 3,000 megawatts (MW) of solar power systems on residential, commercial and government buildings throughout California. Before becoming a law, the bill went through an evolution of different versions over the past three years. The version of SB 1 that was signed by the Governor in August — as opposed to efforts in ’05 and ’04 — struck a successful balance between competing factions on the issue of solar mandates for new homes by requiring that homebuilders of housing developments over 50 units in size offer solar energy projects as an “option” on new homes. Giving new home buyers the option to add solar panels to their home while it’s being constructed is something Murray hopes will one day be as natural as picking out the color of the carpets and kitchen tile; so that along with new plumbing fixtures, the next obvious question will be, What kind of solar system do you want? The Home Depot, which has partnered with BP Solar, has already begun marketing a solar system and installation program to the mainstream by offering its customers the ability to sign-up online for free, in-home consultations. The company has even coined the phrase “Now Solar Power is as Easy as 1-2-3” and provides a link to the Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy (DSIRE) citing, “State and utility incentives now available cut thousands of dollars off the cost, making solar power more affordable than ever.” But while Home Depot and other major corporations have started to “sell” solar power to the general population, it may take drastic measures from the solar industry itself to completely infiltrate mainstream consciousness. “If the solar industry is going to continue to thrive and expand we are going to have to separate ourselves from the alternative fuels debate,” Murray said. “The technology is good now. It can be distributed now. Now is when we have to sell.”