I mostly work from home and since my office is just a short walk from the bedroom, lounge or kitchen, I have started going on short walks round the neighbourhood to avoid becoming fat. I noticed some of my neighbours have covered their south-facing roofs with solar panels.
What image did they convey? Here is a multiple choice:
a) I had some spare cash and wanted to get a big return on my investment and solar panels offer a fantastic return.
b) I had a guy come round promising me lots of cash if I let him put panels on my roof.
c) I hate paying big greedy companies for energy and paying too much taxes, so am very keen to take full advantage when there is a means to get my own back.
d) I really love technology and am keen to demonstrate it.
e) I want everyone to know what a nice person I am looking after the environment.
f) I want to do my bit for the environment and solar panels are a good way to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and reduce CO2 emissions.
g) I want my kids to live in a sustainable world and that is far more important than the appearance of my house.
I get the impression that each of the above would have some people ticking them. Some would tick several.
Well, I did have a guy come round offering me cash if he would let me stick panels on my roof too. I sent him away, mainly because I am a not an idiot. I had thought it through long before he came. Let me explain what image solar panels on a roof conjure up in my mind when I see them. And bear in mind that my full-time job is as a futurist and I think systemically about how people will behave over the longer term. Using the same tick list, with alternative answers:
a) I wanted a fantastic return on my investment and I don’t care at all that it is other people with less cash to invest who will pay that high return. So I am greedy and selfish. As the recession lingers on, some people may be tempted to spray nasty messages on my door or run keys down my car doors or shame me on social networking sites, and maybe my family will live in fear or I will be forced to remove them. So I am an idiot too. I am a greedy selfish idiot.
b) I was fully taken in by a door to door salesman and didn’t understand that I could easily commission the panels myself so was happy to give most of the returns to a company who won’t have to suffer the drop in value of my home or the unsightliness, or the maintenance problems they will cause, or the hassle when I move or any other problems. So I am a first class idiot.
c) If energy companies can’t get as much from the energy they sell, they will try to increase the rental and maintenance and billing charges to maintain their revenue. And that means I will get less net profit from any energy I put back into the grid. So I probably won’t save much on what I buy and won’t make much on what I put back. And when I sell my house, even though I will get less for it because the panels make it look awful, I will probably lose heavily again in various admin fees to transfer the solar contracts over to the buyer, who probably won’t get the same deal, so won’t pay me much for it. So I am not as canny as I thought and my returns will be far less, so I am an idiot.
d) As long as I have the latest panels I will look cool and trendy. But they won’t be the latest panels for more than a few months, after which they will quickly start to look obsolete as well as unsightly, so I will have to either reinvest regularly or accept looking like a loser. So I am an idiot.
e) I care for the environment but not enough to do any basic reading and can’t think for myself anyway. I have been fully taken in by the anthropogenic global warming scam and as the global warming panic changes to global cooling panic I will increasingly be labelled as one of the idiots who went along with the AGW panic and just did what the environmentalists told me to do. I am a well-meaning idiot with little or no independent thought. Still an idiot though.
f) Solar panels will one day be an excellent way of reducing CO2 emissions, albeit in sunny countries. However, they are darker and absorb more of the sun’s energy than the roof did previously, so contribute directly to warming the earth, and manufacturing them creates loads of pollutants today, so it isn’t really quite as simple is it? And anyway, maybe we should have waited and put our panels in later, in the Sahara, and got far more energy for far lower costs, while helping poor African economies. And we now know for certain that the impact of CO2 has been greatly exaggerated and is fairly small compared to other impacts on global temperature. On the other hand, as global cooling sets in, we will welcome the extra heat absorption and I’ll be able to get my energy while helping warm the earth. But I didn’t expect it, so am a lucky idiot who landed in poo and came out smelling of roses.
g) I am holier than you are. You obviously don’t care about your kids and their future. I do, aren’t I wonderful? But I can’t think clearly so am happy to do make some ill-informed token gestures instead of things that actually help. So I am a sanctimonious idiot.
At the moment, public opinion hasn’t had time to catch up and many people are still influenced by AGW panic. But it will. Give it a while, and attitudes will migrate from the first list to the second.
I am all in favour of solar energy in the future in some sunny areas. It has an important role to play, but it isn’t as squeaky clean as it initially looks. It doesn’t need subsidised. When the technology is mature, it will be far cheaper than many other forms of energy, but it isn’t there yet. Since global warming has stopped for 15 years or more now, and it looks more and more like we are heading into a prolonged period of cooling, there is no economic or environmental justification for installing subsidised solar. If it indeed helps the environment overall, it will be far better to invest the same amount later, when we can buy more and help more. There is certainly no cause for panic based subsidies. In the short term they move money from the poor to the greedy, and in the longer term, even those people will lose out. Even the companies installing them can’t seem to survive because of the rapid technology evolution, making their investments in stock worthless and changes in subsidies undermining their business models. It really seems that there are no winners from early investment.
One day, in some places and circumstances, it may be a great idea, but for now, across the UK, rooftop solar power is for greedy, selfish, sanctimonious idiots.