Part of the promise of solar power is that not only is solar cleaner than conventional sources of electricity, but it’s a much more flexible sort of technology. Burning fossil fuel and using it to create power is something that only works well at scale. But a large-scale solar facility is really just a whole bunch of little solar panels all lines up. By contrast, it’s completely realistic to imagine a world in which most buildings include some solar panels that generate some of the power they need. There is, however, a substantial impediment to putting a solar facility atop a single-family home—there are large up-front costs.
Leslie Kaufman reports for The New York Times on a way around this problem: Municipal financing. Rick Clark, for example, took advantage of “a new municipal financing program that lent him the money and allows him to pay it back with interest over 20 years as part of his property taxes . . . [t]he advantage of this system over private borrowing is that any local homeowners are eligible (not just those with good credit), and the obligation to pay the loan attaches to the house and would pass to any future buyers.”
These kind of possibilities are one reason why I think there’s reason to believe that the economic costs of shifting to a low carbon economy are often overstated by conventional models. What we have right now is a society built around the assumption that the negative externalities of carbon emissions should not be priced and also that lavish consumption of energy in general should be subsidized. Our ability to respond to changing away from that system isn’t limited to the possibility of developing new energy technologies. We can also develop new social and political technologies that let us deploy our technical capacities in better ways.