BioTrends 2011 Will Solar White House --> More Eco-Friendly Buildings?

October 18 2010

My guess is, probably not. At least not in the way the first lady's kitchen garden on the White House grounds inspired city gardening.

In fact, there's nearly a "heaven and earth" gap between the simple (and inexpensive) act of planting veggie seeds in the ground and the far more complex and costly installation of solar panels on one's roof, even with tax credits. We're still in a recession, after all, and Mrs. Obama's garden reflects the nation's conservation mentality that was in place during another first lady's encouragement to become a "back-door locavore" -- Eleanor Roosevelt's Victory Garden.

Leading by example is good. Very good. Especially in an area where the "greater good" such as the environment requires the cooperation of "the many" and the Tragedy of the Commons is an all-too-common tragedy.

But in this economy, I can't imagine any significant number of US homeowners rushing out to install solar panels on their roofs just because the White House announced plans to do in 2011 at the First Annual GreenGov Symposium.

Here's why:

1) It didn't happen when Jimmy Carter or George Bush had solar panels installed in the White House.  Granted, the technology may be better and payback may be quicker, but still…retrofitting an existing building for conserving energy is probably not top of mind in this economy.

2) If someone's got to spend a whole bunch of money that will put a real dent in their savings account and will take 3-5 years to recoup their investment (or possibly longer, depending on where you live), will they do it? Even if it helps reduce greenhouse gases? How many homeowners can barely afford their mortgages as it is, are fearful of losing their jobs, are planning on moving soon and worried about recouping their investment?

3) Local zoning restrictions (although the most restrictive are being amended for single-family dwellings.

4) Building orientation, a steeply-sloped roof, large trees or man-made structures blocking sunlight.

5) Vandalism in some neighborhoods.
I'm not anti-green, as anyone who reads our monthly reports or our blog posts knows. But I think many of the "smart grid" initiatives that provide consumer feedback on energy use will do more for saving energy (especially in an urban environment) than installing solar panels on the roof. We'll explore smart grids and unusual "green" and "off the grid" living structures in another BioTrend 2011.

Category: BioTrends 2011
Filed under: Government/Legislation; Green, Investment, Gardening