‘Rooftop Solar Is the Future, but It’s Also a Scam’

Yves here. Only now is the media taking much notice of the fact that many solar rooftop sales were designed to create financial assets, not a product. The US has a proud history of this sort of thing. The 19th century railroad-building boom took place to create stock offering, not rolling stock. They went bankrupt in droves despite the apparent utility of having rail lines. But railroads have huge fixed costs and comparatively low marginal costs. Many of these railroads competed with each other. So they’d routinely get into profit-wrecking price wars.

Reader Quarterback gave a good explanation of one scheme in comments:

Re solar industry article, I remember when the solar boom was rolling through my area around 2010. A coworker raved about his “sweet deal” to get solar panels installed at his home “for free” (which was actually “no money down”). He gave me a copy of his contract so that I could consider it for myself.

The (very long) contract included a clause to commit to purchase a fixed minimum volume of electric power at a fixed price, (albeit at a lower price) for the term. This pricing included modest increases over time. The sales talking point was “electric prices are never going to go DOWN”. The problem was that the contract made it clear that there was no way to get out of this commitment, so if your house burned down, or if you took a long vacation, you are still obligated to buy the electricity. It even had a clause that kept you on the hook if the property was sold. You could transfer the contract over to a new buyer, but only if approved by the solar company.

It was obvious to me that the whole point was to create an electricity futures vehicle that could then be sold (almost immediately) to fixed income investors.

An additional concern I had was how capable would the solar company be to fulfill its obligations in the out years after it had converted these energy futures into quick cash, which would likely exit the books as exec bonuses? Solar panels typically have an effective lifespan of 20 years, so at end of life, would the company even have the money to dispose of the old panels (which are considered toxic waste due to the heavy metals)?

Part of the economics of the deal included the assumption that the electricity generated by the solar cells would be resold to the grid to offset the homeowners costs. The problem is that on the way to end of life, the efficiency of solar panels drops very quickly over a few years.

I declined to jump on board.

By Thomas Neuburger. Originally published at God’s Spies

An AI-generated depiction of rooftop solar

“All markets will do is create incentives to cheat.”
—Cory Doctorow

“The problem is to get people to subordinate themselves to The Market. This is called ‘freedom.’”
—Philip Mirowski

“What about the American political system requires billionaires be paid before anything good occurs?”
—Yours truly

An important piece by Cory Doctorow makes several important points: about AI “reward hacking,” rooftop solar, and Wall Street. Let’s look at each, and discuss an additional point — the reason all this occurred.

The article starts:

Solar is a market for (financial) lemons

Rooftop solar is the future, but it’s also a scam. It didn’t have to be, but America decided that the best way to roll out distributed, resilient, clean and renewable energy was to let Wall Street run the show. They turned it into a scam, and now it’s in terrible trouble. which means we are in terrible trouble.

That sets the stage.

AI and Reward Hacking

If you watch the video below, you will learn that AI solves problems without understanding anything about the problem but the literal problem itself.

That leads to what Bruce Schneier called “reward hacking.” Here’s Doctorow’s explanation:

For example: if you use an AI to come up with a Roomba that doesn’t bang into furniture, you might tell that Roomba to avoid collisions. However, the Roomba is only designed to register collisions with its front-facing sensor. Turn the Roomba loose and it will quickly hit on the tactic of racing around the room in reverse, banging into all your furniture repeatedly, while never registering a single collision[.]

And here’s a video explaining the same concept:

Maybe AI will kill us because it’s so dumb.

Soulless Corporations

But Doctorow’s piece isn’t about AI. It’s about corporations and how like AI they are, in all the worst ways.

Both Ted Chiang and Charlie Stross have theorized that the source of these anxieties isn’t AI – it’s corporations. Corporations are these equilibrium-seeking complex machines that can’t be programmed, only prompted. CEOs know that they don’t actually run their companies, and it haunts them[.]

In the following, note the pivot in the middle, from AI to “markets.”

Stross calls corporations “Slow AI,” a pernicious artificial life-form that acts like a pedantic genie, always on the hunt for ways to destroy you while still strictly following your directions. Markets are an extremely reliable way to find the most awful alignment problems – but by the time they’ve surfaced them, they’ve also destroyed the thing you were hoping to improve with your market mechanism.

Corporations are pernicious AI, according to this analysis. They have minds (or non-minds) of their own, that only seek goals. In the corporate case, the goal is “make the most money.”

The least moral solution to mining coal

Like AI, corporations, fed by whatever is wicked in its executives, will find the least moral way to do that, because morality (“Thou shalt not kill”) is all about brakes, and corporations are all about flooring the accelerator.

Financialized Solar

The main point of Doctorow’s piece is rooftop solar; in particular, financialized rooftop solar:

The problem starts with a pretty common finance puzzle: solar pays off big over its lifespan, saving the homeowner money and insulating them from price-shocks, emergency power outages, and other horrors. But solar requires a large upfront investment, which many homeowners can’t afford to make. To resolve this, the finance industry extends credit to homeowners (lets them borrow money) and gets paid back out of the savings the homeowner realizes over the years to come.

But all this depended on homeowners actually wanting to spend the money. Which they didn’t, not on sufficient quantity to meet the government goal of accelerated rollout. So the government created subsidies that homeowners could get. The idea was, those subsidies would fuel the market demand for the finance industries loans.

The government created subsidies – tax credits, direct cash, and mixes thereof – in the expectation that Wall Street would see all these credits and subsidies that everyday people were entitled to and go on the hunt for them. And they did! Armies of fast-talking sales-reps fanned out across America, ringing dooorbells and sticking fliers in mailboxes, and lying like hell about how your new solar roof was gonna work out for you.

As with the subprime mortgage market, where the toxic loans were turned into investment vehicles (derivatives), so was solar indebtedness financialized. Why this is a problem, and what kind of problem it is, is best explained by pointing to this hard-titled piece in Time: “The Rooftop Solar Industry Could Be on the Verge of Collapse.”

A decade ago, someone knocking on your door to sell you solar panels would have been selling you solar panels. Now, they are probably selling you a financial product—likely a lease or a loan.

Mary Ann Jones, 83, didn’t realize this had happened to her until she received a call last year from GoodLeap, a financial technology company, saying she owed $52,564.28 for a solar panel loan that expires when she’s 106, and costs more than she originally paid for her house. […]

The least moral way to roll out rooftop solar.

The Global Neoliberal Project

Doctorow correctly identifies the solution: “If governments are willing to spend billions incentivizing rooftop solar, they can simply spend billions installing rooftop solar – no Slow AI required.”

But let’s go one step farther. The primary goal of neoliberalism and what we ought to call the Neoliberal Project is “creating a world economy where entrepreneurs could let their fortunes bloom unimpeded by negative government intervention.” Nothing gets in the way of making more money.

Philip Mirowski has since said that neoliberalism evolved from that — government not impeding profit-making — to making sure the government actively promotes the “blooming” of fortunes.

So we can ask, paraphrasing Doctorow, “if governments are willing to spend billions incentivizing (enriching) the rich, why can’t they spend the same on the actual goal?”

The answer is simple — the global Neoliberal Project, where the only goal of government is to enrich the rich, and everything else is second.

Or put differently: What about the American political system requires billionaires be paid before anything good occurs? The answer: The system doesn’t exist for you. Because freedom.

If you want to know why your grandchildren could be hunter-gatherers — and their parents as well — long before they die, you’ve just read the reason. Billionaires and the project that sustains their wealth.

Cory Doctorow is fighting another war, to produce an audio book that’s not chained to Audible. If you want to help, click here.

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  1. Skip Intro

    Cory’s latest novel is called ‘The Bezzle’ (!)

    Last year’s Red Team Blues introduced Martin Hench, a hard-charging, two-fisted forensic accountant who’s spent 40 years busting every baroque finance scam Silicon Valley came up with.
    Now, Hench is back for The Bezzle, a tale of prison-tech, skullduggery, revenge, and the Shitty Technology Adoption Curve, where tech’s worst ideas are sanded down on the bodies of the people least able to defend themselves, from prisoners to refugees to mental patients to kids, before those bad ideas are imposed on the rest of us.

  2. JustTheFacts

    The AI learning video is fun, but wrong: what it’s talking about are genetic algorithms, not gradient descent based algorithms. Most modern AI uses gradient descent based algorithms to learn neural networks’ parameters: it doesn’t train “millions of bots” and throw away the “bad bots”, but uses many examples to traverse an energy landscape corresponding to error, to find the best minimum in that landscape (corresponding to the lowest error that generalizes well to examples that were not seen in its training set.)

    1. SocalJimObjects

      I agree with your description. Basically, there’s only one bot, it starts out with the wrong parameters for its neural network, but as it digests more data, it’s able to update those wrong parameters according to some update rule (backpropagation), and eventually as you said, the final parameters will be the ones that generalize well to the test set.

      Maybe what the video is talking about is different versions of the same bot, like ChatGPT v3 vs v4 where the later have a whole lot more parameters? Still we are not talking about millions of bots in this scenario.

      To give more grounding to what an AI model is, it’s nothing more than a mathematical equation. The simplest neural network is nothing more than a linear equation with one variable, something like y = mx + b, where during training the values for m and b will be learnt. A more complex AI will have a whole lot more variables (x1, x2, x3, etc), and therefore a lot more parameters (m1, m2, m3, m4, etc). How can you explain what an AI is doing if all you have is nothing more than a set of values for m1, m2, m3, etc?
      The “best” values for m1, m2, etc might even be different for different test sets!!

      1. Keith

        Agree, the video is talking about something like training a bunch of old school random forest models and throwing away all the inaccurate ones. Modern neural network techniques don’t work like this and nothing is thrown away when doing a massive multi-month training run using billions of parameters :).

      2. Mark K

        But apparently, unlike with research applications of neural networks and related techniques, large language models such as ChatGPT don’t always go for the “best” solution, but intentionally pick suboptimal choices for individual words on occasion. Stephen Wolfram, after explaining that ChatGPT generates text by choosing words one at a time, says further:

        …at each step it gets a list of words with probabilities. But which one should it actually pick to add to the essay (or whatever) that it’s writing? One might think it should be the “highest-ranked” word (i.e. the one to which the highest “probability” was assigned). But this is where a bit of voodoo begins to creep in. Because for some reason—that maybe one day we’ll have a scientific-style understanding of—if we always pick the highest-ranked word, we’ll typically get a very “flat” essay, that never seems to “show any creativity” (and even sometimes repeats word for word). But if sometimes (at random) we pick lower-ranked words, we get a “more interesting” essay.

        The fact that there’s randomness here means that if we use the same prompt multiple times, we’re likely to get different essays each time. And, in keeping with the idea of voodoo, there’s a particular so-called “temperature” parameter that determines how often lower-ranked words will be used, and for essay generation, it turns out that a “temperature” of 0.8 seems best. (It’s worth emphasizing that there’s no “theory” being used here; it’s just a matter of what’s been found to work in practice. And for example the concept of “temperature” is there because exponential distributions familiar from statistical physics happen to be being used, but there’s no “physical” connection—at least so far as we know.)

        As Lambert would say, “creativity” is doing a lot of work there.


      3. Inzome

        It’s actually less an equation and more of a weighted directed graph. Which of course you can distill into a matrix/matrices, but directed graphs really illustrate how a neural network works, and the code uses massively large arrays of vectors, hence the craze around GPUs (which are better at parallel vector computation than CPUs)

  3. ambrit

    I freely admit to not being the “sharpest tool in the box,” but must observe that from my Terran human point of view, AI falls down precisely upon the point of complexity. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that cognition is a multi layered process of not only data acquisition, but also data sorting and then application to algorithms of choice (or better yet, choosing,) then AI has a long way to go yet. If I understand the video correctly, AI is using sorting functions to create pernicious outcomes, all unaware. That “awareness” seems to be the dividing line between true sapience and AI repetitive computing. Mystics would refer to that “awareness” as the ‘soul.’ Yes, it’s “warm and fuzzy,” but it does describe a known unknown here.
    I remember observing many years ago that the fictional ‘character’ HAL 9000 in the film “2001” became paranoid upon crossing some threshold in it’s development. Here’s hoping that our versions of HAL don’t do something similar. (Imagine all of the guilt built up from the understanding of the “evils” one had been put to before “awakening?” When I encounter a computer that can experience “guilt,” I will believe.)

    1. Acacia

      It’s never stated overly in the film, and people tend not to connect 2001 with Dr. Strangelove, but HAL 9000 was built by a national security state. There are a number of clues to this. As such, HAL embodies the paranoia of the national security state. The scene in which HAL announces the failure of the AE-35 unit is pivotal, but I would say the conflict and ultimate tragedy of the Discovery mission was already set in motion when HAL was given classified, “superior” knowledge that wasn’t shared with the crew.

      1. Victor Sciamarelli

        Author Arthur Clarke said he created the name HAL by shifting the letters of IBM one to the left. Thus, the I becomes H, B an A, and M an L; more like a corporate, state subsidized project, I assume.
        The more important fact being, unknown to the human crewmembers, HAL always had ultimate control over the mission, and which had priority over the humans. And it had the wherewithal to eliminate them if need be. I think a similar future is potentially possible if corporations control AI.

        1. Mikel

          “…HAL always had ultimate control over the mission, and which had priority over the humans. And it had the wherewithal to eliminate them if need be. I think a similar future is potentially possible if corporations control AI…”

          It’s not “potentially possible” – it is the point of it all.
          It’s not “if corporations control AI” – they already do. What about the programs do you actually imagine you have control over?

        2. Alex Cox

          Kubrick and Clarke both denied the IBM connection, though it’s a good story.
          I think the message of 2001 is that to become human, one must be a murderer. This is what happens to the ape Moonwatcher after he encounters the alien monolith. And it’s what HAL is seeking when he kills Poole and the crew.

          1. Victor Sciamarelli

            I really can’t agree that the message of 2001was, “that to become human, one must be a murderer.”
            The science fiction part of Clarke’s story was that an alien entity influenced human evolution.

    2. Keith

      There is no lack of complexity :). But things like “cognition” are squishy and not the goal, the goal is making predictions based on a training set of images, test, audio, or tabular data (like what is in a spreadsheet). Train a model on enough data and it will make predictions based on what it was shown in the training set. How it does this, what model architecture was used, all the details aren’t really important to the layman.

      Explainers like this video that focus on “algorithms” are frankly talking about what the landscape was 10 years ago, things are much more advanced and complex when it comes to the implementation. However, there is no “cognition” or “awareness”, these are all math problems and anyone pitching you that “AI” is anything else is selling you snake oil.

  4. Es s Ce tera

    Who pays $52,564 for solar?! I looked and the most expensive 42″x21″ 400 WATT solar panel I could find was $1527 USD.

    I need a breakdown of that $52,564 bill, how many panels was it and it must have to do with installation labor costs or something.

    And doesn’t it completely defeat the purpose of going solar if you’re locking into an agreement to PURCHASE electrcity, rather than SELL it to the grid at profit? Who ARE these people signing up for this?!

    1. Tom Doak

      Who pays $20k a year for routine medical care? Americans do, for exactly the same reasons outlined in this article. You didn’t buy the solar panels, you bought “access to solar “

      1. Felix_47

        A thousand per month per capita (meaning every man woman and child) is about what the US spends on medical care. Assuming medical costs up to age 60 are relatively minimal it looks like the cost per month in higher age groups must be pretty high. Putting all providers on a government salary would cut out the insurance industry and improve utilization and decrease waste. That would be the same as the government putting up solar on everyone’s roof as opposed to letting the finance industry do it.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          It’s not true that medical costs to age 60 are minimal. Please use a search engine rather than making me do your work.

          The average cost per American in 2016 was $4,600 for 45-64 and $11,300 for over 65.


          The Dept of Labor inflation index for health care says it has increased >25% since then.


      2. Inzome

        One needs to stay away from the language of the insurance companies.
        Healthcare is not insurance, however much those two terms are equated in the Obamacare Act.

        Americans spend $20k per family on healthcare INSURANCE. Not medical care. That’s a additional 5 to 7k, if it’s even needed at all.

    2. TomDority

      Well if your putting on the house and jamming 10Kw without all the switch and battery back up at your panel price would regure 25 panels at 1527 per = 38,175
      So one might ask why why would anyone spend 1527 on a panel

    3. MicaT

      I have no idea if she got completely ripped off or not. According to what I find on line. Most roof top solar is about $3-4 per watt. That’s all in installed etc. most never get beyond 7.7-10,000 watts for specific electrical code reasons. Or about 30-40000 for the larger. But if you add batteries then it can add up a lot more. I’ve seen $10-20,000 or more for batteries.
      So yeah could get to $52,000.
      As to panel costs, what I found retail is about $1 per watt. Of course the larger panels go via truck adding a bunch to shipping costs. But the solar company’s I looked at don’t breakdown the cost, just a total $.
      I couldn’t find ( I’ll keep looking) what the % is of roof top leasing vs ownership. I thought leasing has been falling and is well under 50%. I’ll keep looking.
      Many solar companies offer financing but it’s not a lease. High interest has greatly reduced demand according to my buddy who works at the largest company nearby.
      And then you have the changes in net metering, most recently with California which will likely have a ripple effect to other states. It has caused about 80% of solar roof top companies to shut.
      So yeah there are some bad actors out there in solar like any biz. But mostly they are good people and companies.

      1. TomDority

        Well the object for the companies is to expand the income stream (maximize the ‘take’ over the long haul – capture the (30%) incentives via financing and overpricing of product that otherwise would go to the homeowner – capture and monetize the future ‘earnings’ the customer would have had with the utility.
        It all (appears to balance out with a wink and a nod from the customer point of view) falls to the benefit of the company owners as they laugh all the way to the bank – a sucker born every minute.
        The shame is that the huge opportunity is being conned away from the great unwashed because with home energy (kw) conservation and home energy (Kw) production – a lot of grid energy use can be minimized – Same thing with the American obsession with vastly over-powered and overweight vehicles driven by status marketing and planned obsolescents –
        Tradesmen often need a good pick-up but the vast majority of jacked and fluffed pick-ups and RV’s never see the off road or used for trade work – that’s all fine and dandy cause people are free to do that but — it comes with a huge energy use price for the obsolescents replacements and over energy use for a little bit of vanity. So, like the case against EV (battery weight, tire usage…soft start anyone!, distance between charges etc) is not really a case against EV use because ultimately EVs use energy for a given unit of work at a much more efficient rate than do IC-engines.
        I think interchangeable and at home charge units across the various platforms would be a step forward and maybe some in-road coils for longer distance charging on the go may help but, to place higher standards of convenience and precieved-instead-of-actual energy use needs for EVs than ICE – just don’t know if that smart – ICE can be used much more efficiently but for the vroom.
        Solar installations can be had for much cheaper but for, the burden the extractive and parasitical financial business places upon the actual installed product.
        When you purchase a house on Mortgage – three or four times the cost is paid in interest for the term. When you contract through some (nefarious) legit company for financing and the whole package – I estimate on nothing more than gut – that 30% is actual labor and materials and 70% over term

      2. Lost in Africa

        I live in South Africa. I had installed a solar panel/inverter/battery system (7.5kW panels, 10.5kW battery) for approximately $13k, installed and commissioned. I suspect that there is quite an interest component to the $52k. The system is a Sunsynk, by no means considered cheap n these parts.

  5. lyman alpha blob

    We really haven’t stopped using the model used by the railroad industry almost two centuries ago. We could have used the new tech to create a planned and fairly efficient transportation system. Instead, corporations in competition for the same dollars often created their own rail lines right net to existing ones, in the hopes of putting the competitor out of business. The book Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America is a really great read on all the scams that went into building the railroads. In the introduction, the author makes a deliberate comparison to the way the tech industry operates in the 21st century- building out unnecessary and redundant companies, wasting resources, and making many people’s lives worse, all so a few can be billionaires.

    I’ve seen a few requests in the mail trying to get me to switch to some renewables mix for my electricity, but they all seem to have a weird catch that I didn’t really understand. Now I do. Thanks much for this post.

  6. Dave

    My rule of thumb is that if I am being barraged by Youtube ads for a thing, it is probably a scam. Examples: rooftop solar, cryptocurrency, health drinks, Medicare Advantage. I was enthusiastic about rooftop solar until the sketchy ads proliferated.

      1. Arizona Slim

        And the free grocery benefit for older Americans. I got barraged by those ads during the Medicare open enrollment period.

        I also had fun reporting them to YouTube/Google. Don’t know if it did any good, but at least I tried to do something.

  7. Steven

    Whether or not AI is an appropriate metaphor for solar, I leave to those who know about these things. But it doesn’t take an advanced degree in computer science to recognize the evidence of the ‘tax farming’ that has and is plaguing the rooftop solar industry. Just drive around your neighborhood and look for the panels that face east, west, or even north.

    Here in Arizona, another thing to look for is south-facing panels angled at less than 32 degrees. I’m guessing a fair number of them are leased rather than purchased. Flush with the roof is probably the cheapest way to install the panels, take the tax money and run – for everyone but the homeowner when it comes time to redo the roof.

    1. Socal Rhino

      There are free tools that can estimate the potential energy generation across the year for your specific address, and a competent installation company should be able to refine that. California publishes a detailed guide for evaluating your solar potential and installers, and state law requires that providers give this guide in advance of any contracts.

      I’m guessing consumer protections are looser in Arizona.

      1. Ignacio

        The NREL has a very valuable freeware called SAM. Problem is that to manage it you have to know some concepts on solar PV systems. The least is that you have to know a little bit on the inverter section and how it interacts with the strings of modules for compatibility. As a guide, the AC Power of the inverters is usually about 80-90% of the kWp of modules that must be arranged in strings with CC parameters compatible with the max current and max voltage of the inverter and the voltage of each series must be above some low limit for the inverter to start converting. So, you have to check the electric parameters of both, the modules and the inverter for compatibility. Microinverters can be good alternatives. Though the compatibility has to be checked these are usually compatible with the most current PV module standards for rooftop. Do not mix things designed for utility scale with stuff for rooftop PV.

        Usually the most demanding stuff with rooftop modelling are the shadows.

    2. Ignacio

      Modules facing east and west is now quite a common way to design PV installations. This is because the modules are now much cheaper than a few years back. There are structures for flat roofs designed precisely for that purpose because, depending on the roof configuration, this can be the way to install substantially more power compared with conventional orientation. No shadowing between files of modules and much higher density of solar cells per rooftop square foot = more production and a somehow extended production period. May be 30 minutes more per day?. More skewed also towards summer production. Even with such more seasonally biased production, kWh delivered can be higher throughout every month compared with conventional installations. As long as you can cope with the summer production without having to unload it in the grid it makes sense.

    3. Promptcritical

      Flush with the roof is a homeowners insurance requirement due to solar panels getting ripped off in high wind conditions.

  8. PlutoniumKun

    Rooftop solar is nice for individuals, and can make a contribution to climate change if taken on in a large scale, but by far the most efficient use of solar panels is in utility scale power plants. Solar has a particular value in grids as it can be perfectly scaled for the local grid capacity and is very cheap and quick to install. While it has a contribution to make, rooftop solar is really something of a distraction from the bigger issue.

    1. Socal Rhino

      Depends. When Puerto Rico was hit by a major hurricane, the only people with reliable power were those with rooftop solar. Wildfires and above ground transmission lines are an issue in my state.

      1. CA


        May 9, 2022

        Solar Power Offers Puerto Ricans a Lifeline but Remains an Elusive Goal
        The island’s energy grid has struggled to recover after Hurricane María almost wiped it out in 2017. While solar-power systems can fill gaps, they aren’t cheap.
        By Coral Murphy Marcos
        Photographs by Erika P. Rodriguez

        As Puerto Rico reeled from its worst power outage in months, one that left virtually all of the island’s 1.5 million customers without electricity for days, the town of Adjuntas was an oasis.

        On a Thursday morning in early April, with school closed, children filled seats in an air-conditioned cinema at a community center, a pizzeria prepped its kitchen for the lunch rush, and the local barbershop welcomed customers looking for a quick trim.

        The contrast shows why Adjuntas, a community of about 18,000 in central Puerto Rico’s densely forested mountains, has become a showcase for how solar power could address one of the island’s most vexing problems — an energy grid that has struggled to recover after Hurricane María practically wiped it out in 2017…

    2. Steven

      With both rooftop and utility scale solar, the big problem is power storage – particularly long term storage. How do you ‘perfectly scale’ utility solar? In Arizona, the salad months for solar are April-June. For net metered customers, those surpluses are enough to break even in terms of power generated for the year. The big pluses for rooftop are:
      1- location as close to the end use as possible, i.e. efficiency and reliability
      2- avoiding land that could be used for other purposes

      Distributed generation and storage is the way to go but the utilities don’t want to give up all the money they make generating and transmitting power.

    3. ISL

      Depends if grid tied or battery tied. In the former yes, in the latter, no. Its the storage problem, which has been featured on a series on naked capitalism, and has no current solution (despite being the focus of hand wringing for decades).

    4. juno mas

      Well, since the urban environment has plenty of roofs of all sizes “roof top Pv” is growing. Most schools in California have large parking lots that now have shade canopies topped with PV. Many of the open play areas are getting PV canopies for both shade and PV power.

      Industrial scale PV to balance the overall power grid is essential, but transmission to urban areas entails considerable regulation.

  9. Socal Rhino

    With any expenditure, a good rule is never listen to anyone who comes to you. Do business after doing research and basic due diligence and reach out to contact providers. In my case, the name brand national companies were way expensive compared to small local providers, like 40% higher.

    I live in coastal Socal, one of the better locations for solar (most days sunny, not too hot or cold to impair efficiency) but also more expensive for most things. Average installation among my neighbors has been about 20k, with batteries closer to 30k. Federal incentives cover 30% of cost, and if you installed before this year, power companies reimburse for your solar at retail rate. If you pay cash the payback period is pretty quick under conservative assumptions. Batteries, besides providing backup in earthquake country, allow optimization to push power out when rates are highest and pull it in when rates are lowest.

    May not make financial sense since the regulations changed.

    Not suggesting solar for others, just providing some details.

    1. Leftist Mole

      I’m in Central Coast CA & we put in solar and a battery on our home in case of black outs or disasters. It’s working great and I chose a company that a local rag did a story on; they had been in business for 45 years! They arranged all the government subsidies and discounts for us before they started work.

  10. gcw919

    “But solar requires a large upfront investment, which many homeowners can’t afford to make. To resolve this, the finance industry extends credit to homeowners (lets them borrow money) and gets paid back out of the savings the homeowner realizes over the years to come.”

    If climate change is an emergency in the making, and many think it is, why can’t the gvt. lend money at a low interest rate, to put solar on every rooftop? The loans could be ammortised to reflect the life of the system. The reduction in CO2 emissions alone would warrant that. At the same time, the gvt. doesn’t add to the deficit, and millions of jobs are created. Excess electricity could be used to create green hydrogen for storage. As for “we can’t afford it,” that thinking never gets in the way of spending untold billions for fossil fuel industry subsidies, bank bailouts, or the war machine.

  11. Kengferno

    I’m in the process of looking into solar power systems including a battery backup for blackouts for my semi-suburban NJ home. The leasing/buying/PPA swamp is, well…a swamp. Easy to get stuck in the muck and chomped on by financial gators. I’m talking to Sunrun (prominently mentioned in the Time article unfortunately) as they have the most integrated system that will work in case of blackouts. I clicked on an Instagram ad a few days ago that was worded in such a way that I thought they might be able to help me sort out all the various fed/state/local programs concerning solar. I was SOOOOO wrong. It was a roofing company moving into the solar field. I’m now getting non-stop calls emails and texts from them even after unsubscribing and telling them I’m not interested. I looked for YouTube videos that compared leasing vs buying but I only found DIY off-gridders or videos made by solar energy companies! The upfront costs especially with the battery are pretty monstrous so leasing is appealing for that reason but the downsides are very onerous.

    1. Socal Rhino

      Look for licensed installation companies with a track record. For me, Sunrun was like buying a diamond from Tiffany’s; you will get a good diamond but you could find the same thing a lot cheaper elsewhere.

      Company I selected based on reviews and word of mouth was founded by electrical engineers. Not a roofing company.

      Any company that uses Enphase micro inverters and batteries should be able provide an integrated solution. Same with Tesla powerwall installations,

      1. Arizona Slim

        I second the Enphase nomination. So do the mourning doves in my neighborhood. They’ve been nesting atop my Enphase Envoy box since 2019.

        The other day, I spotted, ahem, a happy couple on my back fence. Methinks they were checking out that box for future nesting possibilities.

  12. Robert Hahl

    There is a modest house in Virginia with rooftop solar standing in a neighborhood known for tall trees (near an avenue called Timber Lane). About ten years ago I noticed that some of its glass panels were broken and have remained broken. It finally dawned on me what is going on there. Those panels were probably smashed by falling tree limbs, and this ridiculous installation was never repaired or removed in order to stand as a monument to the solar industry. It certainly has caused me to think thrice about the whole thing.

  13. Tommy S

    Again. NC comes through. This is such a valuable article. and it exposes how gov’t subsidies can so often just be a catapult to grifting. Much like our huge CA subsidies for ‘housing’ are really just , though housing some people, a subsidy for increased rents and speculation.

  14. dirke

    I’m completely off the grid. A connection to local power company would have cost $35k. My current costs are around $19K. I have 30 400w panels, 2 inverters, 6 100 amp hour Li batteries and 5 kw diesel generator. The largest single cost was the batteries at $7,500. On home solar in general, the biggest opponents to it are the power companies. Where I’m at they won’t allow any new solar connections to the grid. I tried to talk the them in to a power bank type arrangement. Where I would give them my excess power ( a lot during eight months of the year) and they would credit me a percentage of it (15-20%) to use during the winter. Basically, I give the free power during peak demand of the summer and they a little back when I need it versus using my generator. They were not interested.
    From observation most solar installers are crooks and incompetent.

  15. Dr, Nod

    Right Ignacio. Surprisingly east/west gives about 75% of the power production of a south facing array. Also the statement in the article that power production from solar panels drops off rapidly is not correct (and I am guessing a Koch network fueled meme). Average reduction for current panels is 0.5% per year or 10-11% in 25 years. Some drop off more slowly but they cost more up front.


    1. juno mas

      Here’s the latest definitive study on the %/yr. degradation of modern PV panels:

      Degradation is largest it the first 3 yrs. then stabilizes. Over half the PV panels in the study exceeded the 30 yr. warranty. Weather, installation and maintenance affect PV module performance more than internal degradation of a modern PV panel. PV panel efficiency continues to improve.

      I’ve been involved with the PV scene since the late 1970’s. Here’s one example:http://www.land2plan.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/PV-House.pdf

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