Is Solar Arguably the Era's Most Disruptive Technology?

  July 23, 2015

Recently, journalist, activist, and all-around sustainable superstar Bill McKibben published a story in the New Yorker titled "Power to the People." McKibben's fascinating piece shows how regular, everyday homeowners are working with utilities across the country to make their properties more energy efficient. The same lessons McKibben points to in this story apply to any commercial high-performance building as well: Technology is available, relatively inexpensive, and anyone can do impactful efficiency upgrades.

But solar is what McKibben is most interested here. He writes, "Arguably, the era's most disruptive technology is the solar panel." That's a bold statement, to be sure. Do you think he's right?

The rest of the piece explores just how the widespread use of solar on both commercial and residential buildings is disrupting the traditional utility model. One example is a utility in Arizona that now charges an absurd $50 per month "penalty" for any customer that installs solar. The reason: The more customers who use solar, the more expensive electricity is for the remaining customers, so to be "fair," that expense must be passed on to solar-using customers.

It's an odd thing. And one that's created an unlikely alliance of libertarians on the right and environmentalists on the left. Who knew solar would be the issue that unified our fractured political system?

McKibben finishes the story with some examples of how utilities now view efficiency as the cheapest and most effective way to "build" new capacity. It's one of the reasons why, counter-intuitively, utilities will pay customers not to use the one product they sell.

It's a fascinating story — one that hits close to home for any facility manager working on high-performance goals. Give it a read — I'd be interested to hear what you think!


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