Whenever I see a large, flat (or properly pitched) south facing roof I wonder why there isn’t a photovoltaic array or solar thermal system attached. Every weekend while walking to the market I pass a large post office facility with a flat roof and no trees to the south and no buildings blocking the sun. I realize that the cost of the materials and installation are high. However, if we are serious about energy independence and clean sources of electricity, then the government needs to lead. In addition, we need to implement energy conservation measures to start and address easy fixes like weatherization and efficiency. For individual homeowners, photovoltaic systems may be an economic hardship. For this reason, low interest loans (similar to student loans) should be made available to interested parties.
A less popular thought I’ve had is that all government structures with flat or south facing roofs should have photovoltaic arrays installed. Yes, more government spending is a touchy subject; it could have to be offset by cuts in other areas. Â However, with a reasonable return on investment and monetary savings from reduced utility expenses, the public and both political parties should be amenable. The government’s ability to negotiate prices on large scale installations could help drive down prices, while boosting domestic job creation. Protectionist buying policies are often seen in a negative light by trade partners. By installing systems on buildings in the US, these jobs could not be outsourced or subjected to protectionist provisions.
Putting Americans to work and securing our energy future were ostensibly goals of the recovery act from two years ago. There is a need for the government to lead and take visible steps. Under Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu, the Department of Energy has made nice strides. While photovoltaic systems may not offer the same bang for the buck as efficiency improvements, they are a highly visible step in the direction of showing the people that the government takes their own energy future seriously. The Air Force Academy serves as one example of how governmental institutions can lead us toward an independent, clean, and secure energy future.