In 2016 I considered putting up an array of solar panels on my south roof. It was going to be an ideal situation - okay, I'm in New Hampshire, so there are not yet any ideal situations, but other than that - no trees blocking the roof; I was going to be replacing the roof and putting in new electric anyway, and so could deduct that amount from the estimate of whether it was worth it; there were subsidies, one state and one federal. There was some other factor, I think. I recall there being four. Ah well. I apparently did not blog about it at the time.
Even with all the advantages in play, the payback period was going to be twelve years minimum, on equipment that had a twenty-year warranty. As we were quite certain we were going to move before twelve years, and didn't know how much it would increase the value of the home, we decided against it. Even if we had stayed, we would not have gone for it, I don't think. (We made the right choice. The price of oil went down soon after, pushing the payback period out to sixteen years.)
I had a metal roof put on, and spoke with the installer about my computations. He thought my numbers were similar to what he was figuring for Vermont, where he usually did business. I shrugged that solar looked like it was more than one breakthrough away. He agreed, but thought those might not be too long in coming. His understanding was that battery technology was going to improve enough to be one breakthrough. Where the second one would come from he didn't know, but there were nominations. He mentioned at the end that he was talking about subsidy-free numbers.
It's five years later, and battery storage is much better, so maybe that's one breakthrough. I thought of him this weekend, listening to two men in their thirties who worked for commercial solar installation companies on opposite coasts, New Hampshire and Washington. So, not prime sunshine. One was a child of suburban privilege, the other a blue-collar guy. They had just been introduced and were comparing notes. Both had some irritation at Tesla for sucking up all the battery technology and air in the room, but both also thought it was doing good-enough exciting stuff, moving things forward. One detailed a particular program that had two subsidies offered for certain businesses, totaling about 56% of the cost. The other marveled. "You could do it easily with only one of those. You might be able to get it done with no subsidies, if everything broke your way." While they both are likely to be optimistic about their field, both also make their daily bread this way and seemed to be crunching numbers pretty sternly.
Obligatory skepticism: I think the enthusiasts have overlooked intermittency and vulnerability. They didn't take into consideration that emergency vehicles and construction vehicles have different needs than Priuses. I think they have been over-optimistic about when technologies will come on line. I think both federal and state governments have no business subsidising anything more than experimental or proof-of-concept enterprises. I am not surprised that we are not solar-dominant at this point. If you caught me last week before I had thought about it a little harder, I would have done my usual scoffing. "Call me when it's here."
Yet I also believe that ideas are the infinite resource, and technology does improve over time. I posted two years ago an article suggesting the time has arrived in the Southwest, with a few other places marginal. People do keep working on this. Just because some wide-eyed innocents make me crazy with their optimism, and their ability to convince governments to spend money, it doesn't mean that real improvements aren't happening. Batteries do have other uses, and other folks interested in improving them. Their price is 10% what it was ten years ago.
New Hampshire will be just about last to come on board, but I would bet that solar is becoming viable, non-subsidy viable, moving up from the southland. Wind is the natural pairing for solar, because it is windier at night and windier in the winter, but I don't know a thing about that. The bladeless wind farm looks intriguing, but I am not positioned to be either optimistic or pessimistic about its chances. Single events like the Texas storm don't move the dial much for me. The computations have to focus on long-term use, with protections against one-off events. the one-offs themselves too easily dominate our thinking.