Sunday, April 19, 2015

Solar Transition Struggles

As market forces and technological advances bring the solar powered future nearer than ever before, it was inevitable that growing pains would start to appear. The New York Times reports on the issues in Hawaii, where the electric utilities are struggling to adapt to consumer home solar installations. I have a great deal of sympathy for both sides of this situation. Certainly,  I favor a future powered by renewal (preferably non-polluting) sources, and residential solar is clearly a win on that front. But on the other hand, I can sympathize with the folks at the utility dealing with a setup their systems were not designed for. Especially since the electric grid is, when measured on the current industrial timeline, comparatively ancient technology. From a business perspective, utilities have to see supporting consumer solar power as a loose-loose proposition since it facilitates the shrinking of their customer base. Ultimately, this exposes one of the flaws of capitalism as it exists now, the new and better-for-everyone technology is going to be very bad indeed for a bunch of entrenched businesses, and they will have every incentive to oppose them. That said, solar power solves so many problems that its rise is ultimately inevitable, and thus the question becomes, can the utilities pivot enough to become part of the new economy, or will they leave the niche open for newcomers?

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