The environmental activist and scholar Bill McKibben wrote, in an article for The New Yorker (“Power to the People”) that the Borkowskis, from the American city of Rutland, had diminished in 88% the domestic Co2 emissions after adopting the solar energy. At the same time, they have also reduced their electricity bill. Through this disruptive magic, they have turned from simple consumers to producers providing the spare energy to the supplying network.
The decision has also given the Borkowski family the grateful sensation of having offered the right answer to a question that has puzzled the world. In fact, society faces two imperatives. The first is to explore new energy sources to meet an almost insatiable electricity consumption. The second is to prevent global warming and preserve the conditions of habitability of the planet.
The awareness that this is a dramatic scenario has stimulated the increasing use of photovoltaic solar energy. The McKinsey Consultancy calculates that the number of installations in the world has been increasing in 50% per year since 2006. Still, the total energy generated represents a minimal share of the total consumption. The great corporations of the electrical energy sector have been scratching their heads. Although this will not happen tomorrow, we can glimpse a situation where much of the power generation will not be centralized but distributed. It is a crack in a market in which monopoly predominates, in which citizens have the option to buy energy from the local dealer or be in the dark.
According to McKibben, the reaction of American distributors to this disruptive process has been dubious. Some make the life of those who want to install solar panels easier; others try to implant laws to create difficulties.
Nowhere in the world can one expect to find an only answer to meet the enormous demand for energy. We will certainly have to extract it from various sources. Either way, investing in solar energy is part of the answer, and one of the most intelligent and promising options.
In Brazil, it is estimated that the per capita consumption of energy will triple until 2050. In the long-term planning for the sector, led by the energy research company (Empresa de Pesquisa Energética – EPE), solar power should deserve a chapter apart. The portion that it will have in the Brazilian energy matrix is an incognito in the EPE’s technicians views. According to them, without much effort, the photovoltaic distributed generation will reach approximately 6% of the total national system in 2050. If stimulated by new policies, they guarantee it can raise to 9%.
The speed of this change and the size of the solar energy contribution to the array depend on bold policies. There is already a distributed generation program that foresees the purchase by the distributors of the excess energy from self-producers, which includes the energy generated in the residences. The compulsory installation of solar water heating systems in buildings of the ‘My House, My Life’ program was also a good policy. And it is worth it. As examples, we have standards for new building projects that include the harnessing of solar energy, and also measures to be deployed in public buildings.
In addition, solar energy companies are investing in technological improvements to increase the efficiency of extraction and generation systems and to reduce prices. One of the hottest in this sector, SolarCity proclaimed not long ago that its boards had reached an exploitation of 22% of the energy captured -allowing them to generate 30-40% more energy per square meter.
The technological advances are important to place photovoltaics on price parity with the power currently offered by the network. In Brazil, this parity should occur around 2020, according to EPE. Until then, the action of the state becomes even more necessary, by means of policies and incentives.
Above all, it is essential that financing for interested consumers becomes easily available. For example, offering credit lines with low-interest rates, such as those that exist to fund the purchase of trucks, machinery or homes. Or, on the other hand, stimulating the leasing systems, in which the consumer pays a small rent on the monthly energy bill for the installed equipment. With well-designed measures, more consumers will be attracted to the new system and can embrace this good cause.