Back in 2003, when my family moved into our new home in Newton Massachusetts, it didn’t occur to me that its roof would someday generate most of our household power needs plus the daily charge for an electric car. Solar panels at the time were prohibitively expensive, the chilly New England weather didn’t strike me as a good match for solar energy, and the car market had barely entered the hybrid era.
Within a decade, our prospects for tapping the sun had brightened dramatically. The price of photovoltaic (PV) panesl had dropped so low that, with the incentives offered by the federal government and states like our own, homeowners could install rooftop solar arrays and expect to recoup their investment in little more than half a dozen years. By the time I began shopping around for the right solar vendor in January 2013, hundreds of thousands of Americans had installed PV panels on their homes. Moreover, I learned why putting a PV array on a home in Massachusetts was not as incongruous as I had thought. Because the sun’s light, rather than its heat, is what gets all those electrons flowing through the photosensitive cells of a PV panel, solar installations could benefit from the Bay State’s relatively sunny climate, even on the coldest winter days. In fact the PV panels actually perform best in the bitter cold. This, together with favorable state policies, has helped make Massachusetts the nation’s fifth-ranked state for solar power development.
—Philip Warburg, author also of Harvest the Wind