The general public hears a lot about the benefits of solar and other forms of ‘renewable energy’. Solar, in particular, seems like common sense: it’s sunny, we know we can turn the sun into electricity, so why aren’t we doing it?
The biggest issue with the cost of solar versus the cost of non-renewable sources of electricity is scale and infrastructure. Coal, natural gas, and hydroelectric power plants, with their large energy and carbon footprints, are massive industrial complexes and systems that have been developed through decades, often with large subsidies.
As solar power tries to make an impact, the largest challenge it faces is scale. While a small-scale installation of solar to one house will impact the electricity bill of a single household (after the cost of installation), it will not make a dent in the use of renewable energy in the country. The cost of single use solar power is about $3 per watt and is falling at about 10% a year, but solar is less than .6% of energy generation in the United States. Small scale solar now receives federal tax incentives, but not nearly enough to offset the cost. What makes Everybody Solar, our Q3 2016 Natural World beneficiary, a revolutionary step in the process, is their ability to both leverage the benefits of small-scale solar power one building at a time, but also their ability to actualize the benefits of large-scale solar by helping many organizations save thousands of dollars a year with solar energy, which cuts down on their carbon footprint, but also allows those savings to be reinvested in important programs.
How do they pull off such a win-win? Everybody Solar aims their efforts in solar power at other nonprofits with buildings that cost money and rack up utility bills that impact the organization’s operating budget. Everybody Solar’s mission states “… By saving thousands of dollars for those who need it most, and harnessing the power of the sun, we help local communities thrive.”
Everybody Solar’s staff and board have a huge amount of knowledge in energy and solar options. They are also incredibly connected in the solar energy industry, and they leverage these connections and this knowledge to enable nonprofit organizations, such as a wildlife refuge, homeless shelters, and science centers to go step by step through the process of solar installation. Planning, fundraising, and discounts with suppliers and installation are some of the ways Everybody Solar helps their non-profit project partners. Everybody Solar enables organizations to leverage their knowledge to complete complicated solar energy projects that will have an ongoing impact on the organizations, and in the meantime help solar energy move one step forward to being more prevalent and cost-effective.
How do you translate from small scale solar to large scale solar? Due to World Bank investments, in India, it now costs less to generate solar energy to coal. They key is that in India, they have created the infrastructure for solar that the United States has for coal. In the United States,Everybody Solar’s incremental actions impact their project partners while the infrastructure for large scale solar is beginning to take shape.