Thursday, November 05, 2009

Making Solar Affordable: Energy Trust and the Big Hope

Auden Schendler writes about two very smart program ideas of Oregon's Energy Trust: one to more cost-effectively get solar panels on to citizens' rooftops, and another to make homes more energy efficient (so it requires fewer panels to power them)...

Two programs caught my attention. The first is one approach to solar electric installations. Most utilities offer rebates for residential and commercial systems, and that’s it. The problem is that these systems, even with good rebates, are still frickin’ expensive.

What Energy Trust did is a form of “end-use, least cost” planning, a term Amory Lovins coined. They asked: “What do we want, and what is the cheapest way to get that?” What they wanted was clean energy, in the form of solar on people’s roofs. So they brought together everyone interested into a bulk purchase. Then they bid the contract in one huge chunk. Economies of scale enabled everyone to get what they wanted—their own system, on their own roof—but at a 25 percent discount. Brilliant, right?

But we aren’t going to solve climate change with brilliance, we’re going to solve it with applied common sense. The next smart innovation came in the form of lighting retrofits. Energy Trust recognized that first, owners don’t listen to the random enviro dude (telling them to install efficient bulbs). They listen to their contractors.

By reaching out to contractors and electricians with info on the best technology and the rebates available, Energy Trust created a free, motivated sales force, and one that could actually get the retrofits done. Granted, Energy Trust has lots of money to make these improvements happen, and it comes out of customers’ pockets. But that’s what it’s going to take—a tax.

Ultimately, it's smart ideas like this that are going to be expanded or adapted, in some form, at national and international scales to help us out of our climate change/fossil fuel dependence hole.  

Things like this make me think about the reverse relevance of that "Think Globally, Act Locally" bumper sticker.  Maybe we need a new one: "Think Locally to Solve Globally"...

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1 comment:

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