Walking the Walk

I’ve wrestled with writing this blog ever since attending a conference early this year where one of the speakers asked the attendees to stand up if we had solar panels on our homes—and a handful stood.  He then proceeded ask those who drove an electric or plug-in electric vehicle to stand—and fewer than five of us were left standing.  So what follows are my thoughts on this to hopefully provide grist for thought and not end up sounding like a ham-handed sermon…

Those of us who make our living in the new energy economy find ourselves spending at least some of our time extolling the virtues of going green and making the arguments about improved energy efficiency that our technologies can deliver. We tend to be a tech-savvy group, judging by our ubiquitous smartphones, tablets, and personal Wi-Fi hotspots.  We are seldom accused of being Luddites.

Having said that, my admittedly unscientific sampling (ever since the conference in January, I tend to ask questions of my table-mates at various industry conferences) tells me that we’re not necessarily among the most avid early adopters of green technologies.   Personally, I have a solar thermal system and 4.5 kW of PV panels on my roof, I drive a Chevy Volt, and you’d find an array of energy-saving technologies (including both high-tech solutions like LED lighting and low-tech solutions like tons of insulation and energy-efficient windows) in my home.  But even among renewable energy folks, I am something of an outlier.   Why is that?

Certainly, economics enters into it.  These green technology products tend not to be the low-cost solution in the marketplace when shopping for alternatives. And while the purchase price may not be particularly cheap, these products—when viewed as an investment—actually tend to generate a healthy financial return over their lifetimes. Plus, their costs continue to come down and there are numerous incentives available to the consumer.  In the case of cars, there is a cost premium associated with electrification. Nevertheless, there are plenty of popular cars that cost far more than most plug-ins and electric vehicles and many of us buy such cars all the time.  A home PV system is a substantial investment, but the return on the investment is pretty attractive and extremely reliable.  Furthermore, these days it is also pretty easy to lease solar panels for our roofs and not have much additional cash outlay at all.

Despite all of this, big-ticket green technology acquisitions don’t appear to be that much more commonplace among industry participants than among the general population.  Like everyone, we have our own priorities and competing demands upon our resources.   Making an expensive stand for green technology in our personal lives doesn’t necessarily rise to the top of the list.

It’s by no means a requirement for people who work in the new energy economy to be major consumers of its technology offerings.  After all, these products don’t necessarily meet everyone’s needs in their current state of development.  However, most of us are familiar with and are often the source of arguments for the adoption of green technologies by individuals and by society at large.  So when we construct such arguments, isn’t it fair to ask why the arguments haven’t persuaded the people making them?