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The Times Covers Ugly Solar

Even in New Jersey, people would prefer solar to be attractive. The main utility in NJ is installing 200,000 solar panels on utility poles, apparently one panel per pole. Quoting an article in in today’s New York Times

Some residents consider the overhanging panels “ugly” and “hideous” and worry aloud about the effect on property values.

“I hate them,” Mr. Olsen, 40, said of the row of panels attached to electrical poles across the street. “It’s just an eyesore.”

We agree with Mr. Olsen. Utility poles and wires are already bad enough, but get worse when you stick a rectangle on the side.

Here again is a reason for Spotlight Solar. Solar has a place in meeting global energy requirements, but needs to be an aesthetic asset, not a liability.

White House Roundtable (in NC)


Spotlight Solar had an opportunity yesterday to contribute ideas on Winning The Future. The Obama administration has deployed agency leaders to 100+ sites to collect input from business on how the government can act to foster growth and innovation. We were honored to be invited;  my thanks to Henry McKoy, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for NC for the invitation, and to the host, Ron Sims, Deputy Secretary of HUD.

Our suggestion is to couple education initiatives (training a team) with market development (creating a playing field). Government support for the development of new markets is important in renewable energy, since regulation of energy prevents free market forces from functioning efficiently. We need to create favorable conditions for new, promising sources (e.g., solar) for three reasons: 1) the merits of clean energy which use free/renewable inputs are compelling; 2) the early stage of these sources prevent them from competing on cost (yet) with mature but problematic sources; and 3) clean energy/tech is a huge growth opportunity wherein the US lags. 

To be clear, we do not favor long term subsidization of solar, or any other energy source.  Over time, different viable energy sources should be allowed to compete based on their true costs and merits (total costs, including environmental impact).  But some things need help to get started, especially in sectors like energy where the “market” is highly regulated.  Solar needs help to get started.  It is already a $6B industry in the US, but makes up a fraction of 1% of generation, and is still 1/8th of the market in Germany, where policy has provided a solid foundation (and a known phase-out of subsidies). And some things have outgrown a need to be subsidized (e.g., coal).  See Blair Kendall’s blog post on this.

We’d like to see more investment in building demand for renewable energy.  People hold very positive attitudes (a recent study by Elon University in NC found 84% of people in NC supportive of solar), but have limited understanding, low mind-share, and low consideration rates.  We need to bring solar to people’s attention.  I call it marketing, the government calls it public education.  Either way, if we can bring solar to more people’s attention, it can stand on its own feet.  This is why we create visible and attractive solar structures.

Environmental Hazards

Yesterday we had tornados in the Raleigh-Durham area.  Our local Spotlight Solar installation is unharmed.  It likely had no encounter with a tornado, but it is designed for 130 MPH winds, so it might have been an interesting fight.  Tornados are rare for this area, but we do have other environmental hazards, and have tested our product in these rigorous conditions.  See pictures below of North Carolina style stress tests.  It’s tough out here!

Pollen Loading Test



Snow Loading Test, NC-style