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The Trouble with Solar

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Perhaps someone should just give the solar industry a gun so they can shoot themselves in the foot. Want to buy green, buy solar path lighting. Wrong! For argument sake, let’s purchase 14 solar pathway lights for $99. True, they use no energy since they get their energy from the sun, but are they truly green? Not if they last for 2 to 3 years and end up in landfills. For comparison sake we will buy low voltage lighting for a similar price. 4 to 6 lights will produce an equal amount of illumination, and true, although there is the added cost for electricity, it will never equal the cost of replacing solar lights and batteries. Let’s say the low voltage system uses 50 watts and it runs 10 hours a day on average, times 365 days a year. It will use 182.5 kilowatt-hours at an average cost of 10 cents per kilowatt-hour. That’s $18.25 per year, or $54.75 more than solar for a three year period, but now it’s time to replace the solar. Let’s figure that the low voltage system lasts for 20 years. So $99 original cost plus $365 for energy equals $464 for low voltage, plus you have the option of switching it off to save energy. Low voltage lighting will average $23.20 per year. Assuming the solar fixtures need to be replaced every three year, over the same 20-year period they will cost $660, and 98 fixtures will end up in landfills. In other words, the average cost to own solar lighting is $33 per year just to replace the fixtures, replacement batteries not included in this analysis.

solar lighting

So, you wanted to do the right thing and buy green. Instead you really did a disservice to the environment. Is it possible to buy solar and really buy green? Do the math. If the $99 dollar solar fixtures lasted 5 years and batteries lasted 2 years, then it would be close in terms of cost, but you would still have the waste. If they lasted 10 years, then they would be a viable alternative. If fixtures were built to last 100 years and had kinetic batteries that would last the life of the fixture, you could spend a $1000 for your solar lights and be money ahead, but that’s not how people think. Most buy what’s on sale at Wal-Mart for an average cost of $33 per year, which in 100 years costs $3,300 instead.

So, is solar power an alternative? Not if we think like we do. No one expects products to last a lifetime, and consequently manufactures don’t strive to make more than we expect. Most people believe solar isn’t an option, so they pay the power company $2000 for a hookup and $300 a month for the rest of their lives. Certainly, their dad footed the bill for the first 20 years, so in all likelihood, they will only pay this bill for 60 years plus or minus, depending upon genetics and other factors. So, assuming nothing changes such as escalating fuel costs, the price tag for electric energy for a home will equal $218,000 in today’s dollars. Unfortunately, at the end of that time, you don’t own part of that power company. Suppose for a similar investment, including the interest, you could invest in solar technology that would supply 100% of your energy needs, including enough power for your electric car. Would you divorce yourself from the electric company? We all should, but it means thinking differently than we do. First, we must build thinks to truly last. We must use good technology that doesn’t become obsolete ever few years.

There is a battle to win using logic, but it will be a hard won battle. Suppose cars could be built that would actually last a hundred years of day in and day out driving. How would we all react when our neighbor buys their shiny new model and ours is fifty years old? With our newest and best attitude, not very well. The thing is, best is an illusion. With marketing strategies, best is illusive at best. Quality isn’t something people in marketing want to sell. It’s the illusion of quality. In reality, they want the product to wear out so we will be forced to buy another. In the case of automobiles, they want repair costs to eventually grow to the point that it no longer makes sense to keep the vehicle. They want the style to look shoddy or out of date no matter how good of condition the vehicle has been kept.

Solar in OsumPODS will likely be the only source of energy. It should be designed to last a lifetime. Unfortunately, for those who invest now, there won’t be that alternative. The solar industry isn’t striving to make products that last a lifetime. They are like everyone else, hoping to appeal to a niche, in their case environmentally concerned citizens, with products that satisfy the need to be green, but fall short of being viable alternatives.

So, the question arises, does it make sense to build OsumPODS? Certainly for the short term it will be a struggle. For pioneering spirits, it may not really matter, and as demand grows, eventually there will be viable alternatives that will ultimately make so much sense that power companies will be put out of business.

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