The Curmudgeon was in Scottsdale, Arizona last weekend, visiting friends (and, of course, playing golf). While we were there, the rest of the country switched to "daylight savings time," but Arizona--the last holdout after Indiana caved in--didn't.
We have no problem with Arizona not switching--after all, daylight savings time doesn't save any daylight at all; it just shifts it, giving us more daylight in the evenings and less in the mornings.
Unfortunately, we saw a vast waste of another kind of daylight--sunlight--while tooling around the desert valleys of Scottsdale. Scottsdale is a fairly wealthy community (at least before the housing bust), but we didn't see a single home with solar panels the entire time we were there. (We did see a few wind turbines, although they were perfectly still when we drove past.)
That's similar to our experience in San Diego and other parts of Southern California in the past few months.
We hope that will change with the new tax/stimulus bill passed by Congress. Under the old tax code, you could get a 30% tax credit on your investment in solar panels, but only up to $2500. Under the new provision, the $2500 cap is removed, so you can really get a 30% credit. (For the Curmudgeon's solar panels, that would have meant an additional credit of about $3700.)
One of the problems with our national energy policy is that it's so haphazard. We really ought to be concentrating on encouraging widespread solar adoption in those parts of the country where it makes the most sense: Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, parts of Texas and Florida.
On top of the tax credits for solar, we'd like to see a program under which the federal government specifically targets certain areas--like Scottsdale--for intensive expansion of home and small business solar with direct subsidies that would bring the homeowner/businessperson investment to roughly half the cost, a point at which solar becomes fairly economical for people in areas of good sunlight.
(In Scottsdale, a homeowner would get almost double the sunlight the Curmudgeon gets in Northern Virginia; if that homeowner paid half the cost of new solar panels, he or she would recoup the investment roughly four times faster than the Curmudgeon.)
Ideally, such a program would also concentrate on urban areas facing a looming peak power deficit, and would enlist utilities to invest in solar as well--instead of expensive new high voltage power lines--in those areas.
Solar power is not the answer to all our energy problems. But it is an answer to many. Right now, solar power remains largely uneconomical, but it is getting closer. By stimulating the solar market in the right places, under a realistic plan, we can push the economics in the right direction and advance U.S. energy independence that much more quickly.