When you go solar, you contribute to global sustainability efforts.
The sleek panels on your roof and the welcome savings on your utility bill may be all you tangibly see, but remember the unseen impact they are making.
Imagine the emissions impact if every household in your neighborhood ran on solar power rather than fossil fuels.
Now imagine if every household in the world ran on solar energy.
Solar plays an important role in preserving our planet. It makes a substantial difference for the environment for the better, and renewable energy growth and groundbreaking research is further improving solar technology.
One such study found that floating solar panels could not only generate massive amounts of electricity but also fund water conservation in drought-stricken areas of the country. The case study of Lake Mead found that if 10 percent of the lake were covered with foam-packed floating photovoltaics (FPV), there would be enough water conserved and electricity generated to service Las Vegas and Reno combined.
But as wonderful as solar is, there are obstacles to individual and worldwide solar adoption. We'll walk you through what some of these challenges are, and what can be done about them.
Consumer obstacles to solar
Institutional obstacles to solar
Why solar matters
While there are many benefits to solar power, including cost savings and environmental benefits, there are also many factors that can make it difficult or impossible for some people to install solar power systems.
Some people may simply not be aware of the environmental benefits of solar power or the government incentives and financing options available to help make it more affordable. That’s where this blog and other resources come in to close the knowledge gaps.
Solar power systems can be expensive to install, especially for those who have limited financial resources. While the costs of solar have decreased significantly in recent years, upfront costs can still be a barrier for some homeowners or businesses. That being said, many solar companies offer attractive financing terms with no upfront cost.
Read More: Is Solar Actually Worth the Investment?
Even where financing is available, some consumers may not qualify for financing — based on credit score, for example — that would allow them to pay off their solar system over time.
In this case, one option could be a lease or Power Purchase Agreement (PPA), where you wouldn’t own your solar system, but could utilize solar energy owned by a third party. PPAs can be an option for renters as well.
Read More: How to Get Solar Power Financing
Some local and state regulations can make it especially difficult or costly to install solar as a homeowner. Fossil-fuel-invested corporations have lobbyists representing them on Capitol Hill and at the state level to try to pass legislation that de-incentivizes solar for consumers.
Many states have regulations that make it difficult for individuals or businesses to install solar power systems and connect them to the grid. For example, some utilities may require expensive interconnection fees or impose restrictive net metering policies that limit the amount of energy that can be sold back to the grid.
Sometimes homeowners' associations may attempt to regulate solar installations. (FYI: some states have solar access laws in place that give consumers the green light to acquire solar panels, even if it goes against an HOA.)
Depending on the age, condition, and orientation of a property's roof toward the sun or the surrounding landscape, it may not be worth it (or even possible) to install a solar power system.
Sometimes a roof needs to be replaced before solar is installed. Additionally, some older electrical systems may not be able to handle the increased load of a solar power system, so a full electrical system upgrade needs to happen before solar installation.
Building codes and zoning laws can also create barriers to solar installation. For example, some jurisdictions may have height or setback requirements that limit the size or placement of solar panels or require special permits that can be time-consuming and expensive to obtain.
Some consumers are fully aware of solar’s environmental and financial benefits and they have a plan to pay for it. But they may not know what type of solar company is best for them or how to find a reliable and affordable solar installer in their area.
Our advice? Read reviews and get quotes for the top-ranked solar companies in your zip code. Then you can make your decision with confidence.
While solar is gaining popularity in the United States thanks to lowering costs and government financial incentives, there are also factors inhibiting the speed and magnitude of solar adoption.
Institutional barriers can make it more difficult and expensive for individuals and businesses to install solar power systems and can limit the growth of the solar industry overall. Addressing these barriers will require policy changes and investments in infrastructure, education, and training to make solar power more accessible and affordable for all.
As previously mentioned, there is a strong lobbying presence against clean energy initiatives in favor of fossil fuels.
Read More: Why Does Your State Not Support Solar Power?
It’s understandable that fossil fuel companies are resisting risks of profitability loss. A large-scale switch to renewables, even over time, would impact profits but also jobs and long-held partnerships.
“The shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy represents a potential end-game for traditional utility companies, whose power relies heavily on entrenched infrastructure built over the last century,” explains Cy Yablonsky, co-founder of New Jersey-based PowerLutions Solar. “To stay competitive, companies must be willing to adapt and evolve in response to changing markets and consumer demands.”
Lablonsky offers the following ideas to ease the transition:
The United States isn’t the only country facing conflicting interests between utility companies, governments, households, and the environment. Looking at the problem as well as potential solutions from other vantage points can offer solidarity and new insights that can shape how we approach barriers to solar here in the United States.
Martin Desmond, managing director of Wizer Energy, says that Irish companies in the utility industry lobby for tax decreases, reduced environmental protections, grants, and other government subsidies.
Desmond explains that it can be difficult for politicians to implement restrictions benefiting the environment — even if it for the greater good — because in some parts of the country, the fossil fuel industry employs such a large portion of their voter base. Utility companies understand that and can threaten to move their plants elsewhere.
So while some people in government would like to implement policies that reduce carbon emissions, the lobbying power of large companies is preventing real change.
There also seems to be little follow-through, according to Desmond. “There is a push to produce more green energy, particularly in the form of wind power, but this is largely being held up by NIMBYism (not in my backyard ideology). Solar energy is on the rise, with many new homes now having them fitted as standard. But as individuals, there is only so much we can do.”
Nuclear energy is prohibited by law in Ireland, so that’s not an option.
Realistically, the change in the U.S. needs to happen at a federal level, according to Desmond. “If states are left to a race to the bottom in order to keep and create jobs, there is no incentive for change. Government mandates for a process to move to green energy needs to be put in place — complete with a time frame with incentives and fines so these companies know that ignoring the problem is no longer an option.”
To make the transition to renewables as smooth as possible, Desmond recommends utility companies focus on maintaining the jobs they currently offer, providing training opportunities so employees can transfer their skills to renewable energy production while carefully preserving the grid power demanded by the public.
Coal provides about 80 percent of South Africa’s electricity to homes and businesses with renewable energy from solar, CSP (concentrating solar-thermal power), and wind providing just over 7 percent of the total energy for the year.
According to electrical engineer blogger and World Energy Council representative Mogale Modisane, a majority of the coal-fired power stations are concentrated in the Mpumalanga province, and many communities within those regions and towns are basically built around these fossil fuel plants — a familiar dynamic to what we’ve already discussed.
However, in South Africa, one company, Eskom, has a monopoly on electricity. Breaking up the monopoly into separate entities, and allowing for greater private participation is a big point of debate in the country since all private renewable energy plants currently sell their power to Eskom.
“A drastic shift to renewable energy from coal for the utility Eskom would put over 200,000 jobs within the coal value chain at risk,” Modisane explains. “There is quite an extensive consultative process happening in the country to ensure that livelihoods are protected as the country shifts to a more renewable electricity supply industry.”
Modisane believes there are some steps that can be taken to gradually shift away from traditional energy sources such as coal and gas while continuously maintaining economic stability in South Africa and beyond.
He favors the use of a portfolio approach – utility companies investing only so much into developing renewable sources per month in order to allow them time to adjust their budget over time while still keeping up with customer demand.
Utility companies should also provide consumers with more detail as to where their energy comes from and efforts that are being done to decarbonize, in line of ensuring the socioeconomic participation of those most affected by the change from fossil fuels to renewables. New industries will need to be phased into areas of large fossil fuel concentration to lessen the blow of the transition.
And furthermore – “Real beneficiation must be seen by the local communities to ensure political stability and economic livelihoods are kept intact,” Modisane concludes.
Ultimately, it’s going to be a continually difficult process of balancing job security, electricity generation, and global commitments to greenhouse gas emissions.
With so many obstacles in the way of worldwide renewable energy adoption, it might seem impossible.
But it will be worth the effort to work through these challenges.
The solar energy industry is disruptive in so many positive ways. Customers get significant savings on their power. Installers get a solid revenue stream. Everyone gets a break from the negative side effects of using fossil fuels.
All of this transforms the energy industry from something that has been clunky, polluting, and "take-what-you-get" into something that puts the power figuratively back in the hands of customers.
Sustainability shifts are happening, slowly but surely, worldwide. Solar is but one cog in the sustainability machine, but it can be helpful to see the big picture in our individual and collective efforts toward sustainability.
For example, solar plays a crucial role in achieving several of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030, a global alliance to improve conditions for the earth:
Solar energy is a critical component of achieving SDG 7, which aims to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all. Solar energy is becoming increasingly affordable and can provide access to electricity for people who do not have it or have limited access to it, particularly in rural areas.
The solar industry can create new jobs and support economic growth, particularly in developing countries. The growth of the solar industry can also stimulate innovation and create opportunities for entrepreneurship.
The deployment of solar energy requires the development of new infrastructure, including solar power plants and transmission lines. This can support economic growth and increase access to energy.
Solar energy is a critical component of efforts to combat climate change. It is a clean, renewable energy source that produces no greenhouse gas emissions and can help reduce dependence on fossil fuels.
Solar energy can contribute to the development of sustainable cities and communities by providing access to clean and affordable energy, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and improving air quality.
In conclusion: solar matters enough to face its challenges head-on.
When you choose solar, you choose to take part in a global effort toward renewable energy and a better future for humanity in so many ways.
Need help figuring out solar for your home? Check out the top solar companies in your area.
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