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Is the Future Bright for Solar Energy?

On November 21, 2016, Tesla Motors Inc. secured a two-billion-dollar deal with SolarCity, the United States’ biggest solar energy service provider.

Tesla CEO, Elon Musk, has already gained a lot of attention over the years for his electric-powered cars, and this acquisition pushes his company to expand its range of clean energy products to include solar technology. This merger brings him one step closer to fulfilling his goal: he aims to allow customers to be in control of creating, storing, and using their own energy rather than depending on other, less environmentally-friendly options.

Recently, he disclosed plans to make clean energy products cheaper and more accessible to the everyday consumer. During a shareholder meeting between Tesla and SolarCity, Musk revealed the development of a new type of solar panel roofing. The advanced panels would not only be more efficient in producing energy, but also, be cheaper to install and last longer than normal roofing.

According to Electrek, Elon Musk said, “The basic proposition would be ‘Would you like a roof that looks better than a normal roof, last twice as long, cost less and by the way generates electricity’ why would you get anything else.”

Although his proposition seems promising, it doesn’t mean that the switch would be right for everyone. One of the issues with the panel is the cost of the materials used to produce them. Musk first introduced the panels to contain terracotta and slate, both of which are much more expensive than the asphalt roofing that many households in the US use.

In addition, the cost of installation is high. The installation and maintenance will not prove to be cost-efficient if a customer has their panels for only a couple years or moves out. Musk’s argument of price saving, then, is mainly attributed to the dollars that won’t appear on one’s energy bill because of this extra solar energy production.

Another less prevalent but discussed aspect of Donald Trump’s presidential election win concerns the entire solar energy industry. Trump referred to renewable energy as “an expensive way of making the tree-huggers feel good about themselves” in his book “Crippled America.” His presence has brought up grim discussions about the future of the United States’ renewable energy industry.

Recently, Trump chose Myron Ebell, a climate-change dispeller, to lead the Environmental Protection Agency transition team. With his ideology, it is believed that there will be a heavier focus on sources of energy like oil, which are undeniably cheaper than solar and other renewable energy sources. This is a worrying trend for advocates of clean energy.

This isn’t to say that Musk’s efforts are for nothing. Musk and his company have proven their capabilities in the past, and have exceeded expectations. His accomplishments include self-driving cars and he has broadened the possibilities of space travel with his company Space-X.

In regards to the solar energy industry, if Musk’s claims are correct and the panels are cost-efficient, a gradual switch to this kind of roofing could signal the growth and prominence of solar energy in today’s industries.

(Image Courtesy of Forbes)

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