Energy Democracy: Three Ways to Bring Solar Power to the Masses

Communities and individuals should invest in solar energy to bring clean, renewable power to their state.

| September 13, 2012

The following article is posted with permission from Grist.

Pollution is not the only thing wrong with the U.S. power system. It is also governed by inconsistent rules and opaque, unaccountable organizations. The average citizen has little understanding of how it works, who is in charge, or how it might change for the better. The financial benefits of electricity, like power generation itself, tend to be centralized, concentrating in the hands of shareholders and executives. 

Just as a cleaner electricity system would be preferable, so too would a more small-d democratic system, one that distributes economic and social power more widely. 

One measure that serves both those goals at once is simply to get renewable energy in more people’s hands. Let more people get jobs in it, invest in it, receive tangible benefits from it. Nothing diminishes partisan opposition like an income stream. That’s why renewable power remains untouchable in German politics — lots of Germans are directly involved with it

The biggest barrier to spreading renewable energy is its high up-front costs. Some of that is helped by state and federal financial incentives, but those are expected to decline sharply in coming years. However, there is a positive countervailing trend: innovations in the financing and ownership of solar projects that are opening distributed solar PV to a wider and wider market. Here are three financial models that are helping to drive this solar expansion. 


The conventional route to rooftop solar is to buy some panels and enjoy the payback … in five to 10 years. This restricts solar PV to those willing and able to a) cobble together enough cash or get a home equity loan in crappy economic times, b) stay in the home long enough to earn positive returns, and c) take on the responsibility of operating and maintaining a small power plant. That’s a comparatively small segment of the public. 

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