Utility-scale solar power offers the cheapest electricity in history. However, cheapest doesn’t always mean best, even in the electricity sector. Rooftop solar power comes with a few big benefits. Also, it doesn’t actually compete with utility-scale solar except in certain nuanced or policy ways. Rooftop solar power competes with retail electricity from the utility, rather than as an option for a big new power source for a utility or company. That said, if policymakers want to incentivize or require clean power in order to help with certain societal challenges, they should give extra thought to whether or not they provide extra weight to rooftop solar power.
Any self-respecting policymaker should love creating jobs — or creating policies that create jobs, more specifically. As John Farrell pointed out this week, rooftop solar power creates nearly 30 times more jobs than utility-scale solar power per million dollars spent. That could be hundreds of thousands of more jobs in a region. It’s a similar story for rooftop solar versus other large-scale power projects, or even better.
Furthermore, as we know, rooftop solar power systems are increasingly paired with home energy storage systems, which create even more jobs. In fact, as Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently shared, Tesla is now only installing solar panels with Powerwalls (energy storage systems). It is no longer installing solo solar systems. Considering Tesla is one of the top solar power installers in the United States, and seems to offer the cheapest rooftop solar power systems (per watt), that’s going to mean a lot of extra hardware installation — and thus extra jobs.
During the Obama years, and then even into the Trump presidency, the fastest growing job in the United States was solar power installer. By mid-decade, there were more solar jobs in the United States than oil & gas jobs (combined).
Rooftop solar also comes with other “soft benefits,” like greater grid resilience, lower chance of blackouts, greater grid security, less water use, less land use, and — of course — less pollution. Though, as James Carville once said, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Want to win the hearts and minds of voters? Want to be re-elected? If you’re a policymaker, not many things can beat stimulating the rooftop solar market and creating clean energy jobs.
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