Wednesday 7 December 2022
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Is Residential Solar Ever Going To Catch On in New York State?

Solar panel installationIf you’ve been paying attention to the local news, you know that Upstate New York is going through an unprecedented solar power boom. Thanks to a liberal-leaning population, incentives from the state government, and big investments from power-players like Elon Musk, thousands of solar industry jobs are coming to the Upstate. Despite this, solar power isn’t exactly progressing at the speed of light. If anything, it’s growing at the speed of tree sap.

This October, 1366 Technologies announced that they would build a large manufacturing plant in Genesee County outside Rochester. The plant will make sophisticated “solar wafers,” a vital component in most solar panels, and Governor Andrew Cuomo says it could bring about 1,000 jobs. That’s in addition to the massive SolarCity factory being built in Buffalo — the Elon Musk venture that will also bring thousands of solar industry jobs to the area.

Despite these high-profile announcements, Americans have been slow to adopt residential solar panels in recent years. While there are more than 50,000 roofing and siding companies in the United States, residential rooftop solar panels are still a boutique industry.

Robert Walton is an editor with Utility Drive, where he’s been chronicling his summer building an “off-grid” cabin in Upstate New York. In rural communities in the state, solar advocates are using grassroots activism to bring their neighbors to the light. He writes:

Tony Del Plato, manager of community group Solar Seneca, invited me out to the meeting so that I could see the sort of grass roots efforts solar boosters are using in the region.
The group gets a $5,000 grant from the state, the bulk of which goes towards yard signs and other communications. The goal is to double the number of solar systems in a four-town area – from 20 to 40. It’s small-scale solar activism, growing one roof at a time.”

Studies have shown that the biggest incentive for people to install rooftop solar panels isn’t tax incentives or a desire to help the environment.

It’s peer pressure.

When one household in a neighborhood installs solar panels, neighbors are far more likely to follow suit. So solar advocates are hoping that one day soon, residential solar power will hit critical mass. For now, they’re still spreading the solar gospel “one roof at a time.”