OPINIONS Commentary: California’s solar power plan has challenges

OPINIONS

Commentary: California’s solar power plan has challenges

By Raymond Mendoza | People's Daily app

08:06, May 23, 2018

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California lawmakers recently made a historic decision regarding renewable energy, approving a plan starting in 2020 that requires most new homes to have rooftop solar panels that turn sunlight into electricity. While the plan is a step in the right direction, there are several challenges that California must overcome to make this plan a success.

The largest problem with solar panels, and the problem that is on most everyone’s minds, is the price. According to NBC, the average cost of a solar system is $9,500, or $40 a month when spread out over a 30-year mortgage. While the systems end up saving an average of $80 a month for utility bills, this cost is still enough to make some homeowners balk at the situation since that nearly $10,000 price tag will show up on top of their total housing cost.

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A fisherman is netting fish near a solar power project in East China's Zhejiang Province, Dec. 24, 2016. (Photo: Xinhua)

Yes, the financial benefits are readily apparent, but this price bump is just another problem for housing prices, which are already too high in the Golden State. Furthermore, this new plan will increase the cost of apartment rental prices in a time when California’s rental market is already forecasting record high projections. The bottom line is that solar power somehow needs to become even more cost effective or else most people won’t be able to afford living in these new buildings as a renter or owner.

Next, engineers need to improve energy storage technology for continuous use of solar power throughout the year. One major problem with solar power is that it’s obviously available only during the day and that it’s collection can be blocked by shadows or even cloudy weather. Also, collecting solar energy can be uneven at certain parts of the year like summer and winter.

So, in order to maintain power throughout the night or during cloudy days, solar storage batteries need to hold higher capacities to fit the needs of solar power users. If solar power is meant to take over as the primary source of energy in California, and possibly the world, then the technology must be upgraded to fit the needs of consumers at all times. So, efficient batteries need to be introduced to the market to ensure that solar power is being collected and stored so that there is no down time for when it’s in use.

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Solar installers from Baker Electric place solar panels on the roof of a residential home in Scripps Ranch, San Diego, California, U.S. October 14, 2016. (Photo: Reuters/Mike Blake)

Furthermore, solar power batteries not perfected technology by the fact that their lifespan is significantly shortened every time they reach a zero percent charge. This is because solar batteries need to retain some charge at all times due to their chemical composition, according to EnergySage. This will invariably affect new users, who are unaware that this problem even exists. This sort of oversight will likely lead to a great deal of wasted funds since new users will be replacing batteries at a high rate. While solar power works well as a supplemental source of energy, this sort of wear and tear will be inexcusable when California’s renters and home owners are forced to adopt it.  

Finally, there is a massive problem with solar power when it comes to overproducing in certain parts of California. Though it might sound odd, certain areas in California have been known to overproduce solar power during the summer because of their location in remote areas.

While this would be a good aspect, it showcases the fault in some of California’s infrastructures because this excess power had to be sold off since it did not have the means to store it. So, all of that excess power ended up being sold to Arizona and Californians lost out on a great deal of cheap energy. This is yet another infrastructure problem that needs to be fixed before solar power becomes the norm in the state, because the state cannot afford to waste electricity. 

So, while California has a great deal of work to do before it’s green energy dreams are realized, they should seek inspiration from Germany and China’s since they lead the world harnessing solar power.

Specifically, China surpassed Germany to become the world’s largest producer of photovoltaic power (the process of converting sunlight to energy) in 2015 and even achieved its 2020 goal of amassing 105 Gigawatts of solar power electricity three years ahead of schedule. Rooftop solar powered water heaters have also become very popular in China since 2014. Both countries do an amazing job of implementing solar power systems not only on rooftops, but also have vast arrays of solar parks and farms to support their entire country’s energy needs.

Renewable energy is a popular topic right now and California lawmakers have their heart in the right place with this new solar plan, but they should tread lightly as they work toward accomplishing their goal. If California fails with this solar power venture, it could make other states reconsider similar plans and cause push back against green energy. In short – solar power is the way of the future, but California needs to invest in research and development to improve the technology before it becomes it starts getting pushed on every potential home buyer and renter.

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