Could Everyone Have Solar Power? | Hot Mess 🌎


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By the end of 2016, the US was home to over 1 million household and commercial solar energy operations, with 4 times as many solar panels installed that year compared to just four years earlier. But if you don’t own the roof over your head, or can’t afford this kind of upgrade, are you left out of the solar energy revolution?

If you’re interested in learning more about how much solar energy costs to install, and what community solar options are available where you live, check out:

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Host: Talia Buford, ProPublica
Writer: Darcy Gentleman
Creative Director: David Schulte
Editors/Animator: Mark Rodriguez
Producers: Stephanie Noone & Amanda Fox
Story Editor: Alex Reich
Editor-In-Chief: Joe Hanson


Produced by PBS Digital Studios
Theme Music: Eric Friend/Optical Audio
Music: APM
Stock images from

Thanks to the funders of Peril & Promise for supporting PBS Digital Studios. Peril & Promise is a national public media initiative from WNET telling human stories of climate change and its solutions. Learn more at


41 replies
  1. soascha
    soascha says:

    After watching this I spend like an hour or so to find out how I as a person with minimal income could be able to invest in renewable energy via crowdfunding or other means 😀

  2. marcclassic
    marcclassic says:

    Solar panels are a complete scam :
    – They are subsidised in most countries because they are expensive,
    – They are intermittent and production is not available over 30% of time, averaged during the year,
    – For every kW installed, another kW of classic fossil fuel or nuclear fuel has to be installed in a power station : that doubles investments
    – A tremendous effort should be done on the electrical network to integrate the vast distributed low power points of production.

    Just use solar panels for heating water for your own consumption. Low cost installation and imediate return.

  3. Rendus4
    Rendus4 says:

    I was hoping to see something about Homeowner's Associations and even local governments' overly burdensome restrictions on solar. That's the reason I had to remove my solar!

  4. Paul Gardner
    Paul Gardner says:

    My 8kw array cost $29000. I got multiple bids for it. After federal credit, state tax savings, power generation savings, and a power company rebate, I will break even on year 8. It only made sense because my home was just built and I plan to live here the rest of my life as long as I can. If you take away the government funded rebates I would never break even and solar would be totally pointless.

  5. Russell Fine Arts
    Russell Fine Arts says:

    I bought 18x 270W (5kW) solar PV system last year and installed it on my roof, myself. I watched a few YouTube videos and just did it, it was pretty easy. Total cost: $5k and my payback is: 2.5 years. My power bill is: $0. I suggest everyone do this. You need to buy your solar panels, inverter and racking from a distributor, to get the wholesale price. A local solar installer will double the price then more than double it again, to install the panels, which takes about 4-6 hours to do. No need to throw your money away, install them for free.

  6. Amuzic
    Amuzic says:

    In India, 1 KW solar installation costs about 1400 USD (Without Subsidy) and the payback period is usually 6-7 years even with our very cheap electricity tariff which is flat throughout the day. If you buy everything(batteries, panels and structure) separately it will cost less than 1000 USD.

  7. Abhay Sharma
    Abhay Sharma says:

    It has historically proven the more the human forms a bigger community the better the welfare of humans happens, Same for the electricity, I hope for the best for the humans that one day will come when nobody would kill anybody.

  8. Abhay Sharma
    Abhay Sharma says:

    One thing which is unacceptable is those places which are abundant in sunshine and wind are still using the coal powered electricity, I think it should be mandatory for every arid region to install solar panels.

  9. Steph M
    Steph M says:

    I think it's great that a lot of affordable housing is being built with solar cells or solar heating already installed. Unfortunately it can have unforeseen negative consequences: for example in Cape Town, all new affordable housing designed to help people move out of townships are being built with Solar heating tank on the roof. This has meant that solar power and solar heating now has a bad image as something "only poor people have" and private take up of solar has declined. Hopefully we can still get the word out that solar is for everyone NO MATTER what your your background/income is

  10. bryander
    bryander says:

    SOLAR LEASE! How’d you leave that out? My 3.2kW array (16 panels) didn’t cost me a penny upfront. My monthly cost + tiny electric bill (additionally discounted the net energy I supply to the grid, albeit at commercial rate) means I’m spending about the same as I was before, I’m converting more photons to electrical energy than I use, and using virtually carbon free energy as well as supplying daily surpluses to the grid. My system would’ve cost $16k when I got it 7 yrs ago, and I know prices have come down a lot—the $20k you quoted seems pretty high as an average for home rooftop solar installations.

  11. penguins forall
    penguins forall says:

    The ONLY policy that would force utilities to invest in and produce renewable energy are feed-in tariffs. This means you should be fighting for this policy in your municipality or state. All other polices will not make a significant difference to renewable energy investments except for economy of scale but that will not happen fast enough.

    Outside of wide policy changes if you have the money buy solar panels for your roof otherwise microgrids among households or add solar energy to your housing complex through what ever governance they have. In some circumstances like if your utility is a cooperative being a participating member and investing in renewable would be better. Thats about it sadly.

    Solar power purchase agreements or solar grid markets are doomed because the utility has no incentive to invest in solar energy. Effectively the customer pays the premium of investment while getting no benefits to economy of scale. In abcence of any other other polices this could help solar startups who are ALSO getting tax breaks or other incentives break into the market but it doesn't actually encourage investment.

    While Renewable Energy Certificates could encourage investment if enough customers bought them they also provide a way utilities can avoid costly investments by offloading to another state or municipality that has lower standards which means RECs only work if efficiency standards are universal and they are not. We need the entire industry to make across the board changes and RECs do the opposite. They make the transition smoother for investors but they don't actually provide an incentive on their own.

  12. Christopher Willis
    Christopher Willis says:

    To all the nuclear fanboys hating on solar in these comments…why? Nuclear and solar can and should be used in in tandem to address climate change. This winner take all talking point war between nuclear and renewables needs to end. This is the opinion of some of the most well respected energy wonks and climate bodies on that matter, we need an all of the above approach. It is a 10 trillion dollar energy game, more than enough for all the energy players we can think of. Just make policies that support low CO2 and let people and markets make their choices.

    THE SILENT GOD says:

    our primary goal is combating climate change, it is decarbonization of energy, not just electricity. we have no luxury but to include all clean options. that means hydro, geothermal, nuclear, wind and solar. insisting on a single type won't work, we can't play favorites. we must understand the strengths and weaknesses of each type and use them properly to create the best clean energy sector we can

  14. TheGino820
    TheGino820 says:

    The problem is that the solar energy is not costant, in this moment it is impossible to produce all or a lot of elettricity whit sun, because during night or winter there isn't the same productivity that during the day or in summer. It is important to remember this, it is necessary more types of renewable energy or an accumulation sistem of energy.

  15. Brokkoli OMG
    Brokkoli OMG says:

    Look, I love solar. But I hate solar gardens. Seriously why should you install solar panels in nature when there is huge amount of space on roofs of industrial buildings and so on? You should first install it there, we dont need to put that impact into nature. I know it might seem like a little thing and quite unimportant, but when you think about it this is just crazy and stupid. It really fucks me up.

    Also, as I'm informed many solar installments pay back in less than 20, maybe even less than 10 years. Sometimes you have to add storage but it actually makes sense today already. And why didnt you mention leasing solar panels? Also a great opportunity^^
    Still good video…

  16. Rand Huso
    Rand Huso says:

    I put in 6.8kW myself – cost me approximately NZ$10,000 (panels from China, mounting brackets, 2 grid-tie inverters, and the most expensive: electrical certification). Eliminated my electric bill. Did it without any government programs. It paid for itself over the past 5 years, and it's basically free energy going forward. Had government been involved, it probably would have cost twice as much.

  17. Tom Eccles
    Tom Eccles says:

    What is the carbon footprint of manufacturing solar panels? The silicon wafers are purified by keeping them molten for days at a time until impurities separate. Maybe the payoff over the lifetime of the solar panel is worth it, maybe not. I would be interested to see some numbers

  18. Steve Bulbow MD
    Steve Bulbow MD says:

    Just installed 4 solar efficiant panels(what´s needed for my energy consumption). My current daily energy consumption is 5.1-5.2 Kws. It cost me $1,660 Dls for the equipment & installation(my nephew gave me a discount). Normal price with installation was $2,333 Dls. They have a 25 year guarantee against defects & will amortize itself in 6 years(current consuption). Now looking at the possiblity of an electric car. Only requires 2 additional panels. I also installed a solar boiler in Feb 2017. It paid itself off 15 months & 0% carbon emissions(no need to turn on the gas boiler any more & water comes out almost boiling). I did it because I want to reduce my carbon footprint & help in not being part of the problem.


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