written by:
illustrated by:
August 16, 2015
Originally published in Furniture Makes It Modern
as
Energy 360: The Solar State
Tech breakthroughs are bringing solar power to the people, and upsetting electric utilities' business models.
Solar State illustration by Raymond Biesinger

"In the near future, the question won't be if you have solar, but what kind you have."—Scott Franklin, CEO of Lumos Solar, a solar module company

1 / 4
Solar State illustration by Raymond Biesinger

Bright Side of History 

Recent innovations in solar technology have made photovoltaics drastically more affordable and accessible to individuals. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), a U.S. trade group, the cost of installing residential solar panels decreased 45 percent between 2010 and 2014.

2 / 4
Solar State illustration by Raymond Biesinger

Sun Spots Some homebuilders have already committed to making solar panels standard in all new homes. Lennar Corporation has put photovoltaic installations on thousands of rooftops in more than 100 SunStreet communities in California. The company plans to extend the program to Colorado and Nevada soon.

3 / 4
Solar State illustration by Raymond Biesinger

On the Beam 

Acknowledging the capacity for individuals to generate their own electricity, Xcel Energy recently unveiled a proposal to add 2,400 megawatts of combined large-scale and residential solar energy to its Upper Midwest system. If enacted, it would cut emissions 30 percent by 2020, and 40 percent by 2030.

4 / 4
Solar State illustration by Raymond Biesinger

"In the near future, the question won't be if you have solar, but what kind you have."—Scott Franklin, CEO of Lumos Solar, a solar module company

It has been the “power source of the future” for at least the past 40 years. It’s one of the few things on which people agree across the entire political spectrum. And thanks to the development of more efficient and inexpensive solar panels and intelligent infrastructure like smart meters and inverters, it looks as though solar power’s time in the sun has finally arrived. The amount of solar photovoltaic power generated in the United States has increased from 16,000 megawatt hours in 2007 to 15,874,000 in 2014. That thousandfold increase has caused electric utilities across the country to either panic or seriously rethink their business model. 

The chief reason for the disruption is that, unlike most other renewable sources of energy, solar can be controlled at the homeowner level. Lennar Corporation, a major American homebuilder, has been looking at integrating “no brainer” solar—photovoltaic  installations that require next-to-no customer involvement—into their houses since around 2006. Now, when you build or buy in any of their 100-plus SunStreet communities, every single home is designed from the ground up with an integrated solar generating system, which produces 70 percent of their estimated energy needs. 

This much generating capacity in the hands of individuals creates an entirely new energy landscape, one that many utilities aren’t ready to handle technologically or logistically. From Wisconsin to Hawaii, utilities are taking what some call punitive action against small-scale solar power, ranging from monthly surcharges to a complete moratorium on new photovoltaic hookups. Michael Hyland, senior vice president of engineering services at the American Public Power Association (APPA), an electric utility service organization, says, “We have an inkling that many utilities will need to review their rates and how they have charged for electricity over the past hundred years.” One positive change the APPA sees is the development of what it calls community solar: putting photovoltaics on publicly owned land—near landfills, airports, parking lots—that can be utilized by the entire community. The utility will benefit by not having to deal with multiple owners and installers, and the homeowners will benefit by not having to front the cost of their own solar installation.

With social and technological innovations like these, the power source of the future may finally be ready for the present. Or as Hyland puts it, “Electricity drives the economy. It is sometimes thought of as the eighth wonder of the world. So this is really a juicy time to get into the industry.” 

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

45 dva 2270 persp1 cmyk 0
The prospect of retirement doesn’t just signal the end of a career; it offers the chance to recalibrate and re-prioritize in life.
July 25, 2016
18
You don’t have to choose between sustainable energy and curb appeal.
July 19, 2016
jakemagnus queensland 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
July 06, 2016
content delzresidence 013 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 29, 2016
abc malacari marwick stair 01 0
A simple set of stairs is a remodel’s backbone.
June 28, 2016
Design Award of Excellence winner Mellon Square.
Docomomo US announces the winners of this year's Modernism in America Awards. Each project showcases exemplary modern restoration techniques, practices, and ideas.
June 27, 2016
monogram dwell sf 039 1
After last year’s collaboration, we were excited to team up with Monogram again for the 2016 Monogram Modern Home Tour.
June 27, 2016
switch over chicago smart renovation penthouse deck smar green ball lamps quinze milan lounge furniture garapa hardwood
A strategic rewire enhances a spec house’s gut renovation.
June 26, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent coralie gourguechon treviso italy cphotos by coralie gourguechon co produced by isdat planche anatomique de haut parleur1
Coralie Gourguechon's paper objects will make you see technology in a whole new way.
June 26, 2016
green machine smart home aspen colorado facade yard bocci deck patio savant
Smart technology helps a house in Aspen, Colorado, stay on its sustainable course.
June 25, 2016
Compact Aglol 11 television plastic brionvega.
The aesthetic appeal of personal electronics has long fueled consumer interest. A new industrial design book celebrates devices that broke the mold.
June 25, 2016
modern backyard deck ipe wood
An angled deck transforms a backyard in Menlo Park, California, into a welcoming gathering spot.
June 24, 2016
dscf5485 1
Today, we kicked off this year’s annual Dwell on Design at the LA Convention Center, which will continue through Sunday, June 26th. Though we’ve been hosting this extensive event for years, this time around is particularly special.
June 24, 2016
under the radar renovation napa
Two designers restore a low-slung midcentury gem in Napa, California, by an unsung Bay Area modernist.
June 24, 2016
Exterior of Huneeus/Sugar Bowl Home.
San Francisco–based designer Maca Huneeus created her family’s weekend retreat near Lake Tahoe with a relaxed, sophisticated sensibility.
June 24, 2016
light and shadow bathroom walnut storage units corian counter vola faucet
A Toronto couple remodel their home with a special emphasis on a spacious kitchen and a material-rich bathroom.
June 24, 2016
Affordable home in Kansas City living room
In Kansas City, an architecture studio designs an adaptable house for a musician on a budget.
June 23, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment oak vertical slats office
By straightening angles, installing windows, and adding vertical accents, architect Aaron Ritenour brought light and order to an irregularly shaped apartment in the heart of Athens, Greece.
June 23, 2016
kitchen confidential tiles custom cabinetry oak veneer timber house
A modest kitchen addition to a couple’s cottage outside of Brisbane proves that one 376-square-foot room can revive an entire home.
June 23, 2016
feldman architecture 0
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 22, 2016
Blackened timber Dutch home
A modern dwelling replaces a fallen farmhouse.
June 22, 2016
hillcrest house interior kitchen 3
Seeking an escape from bustling city life, a Manhattan couple embarks on a renovation in the verdant Hudson Valley.
June 22, 2016
angular
Atelier Moderno renovated an old industrial building to create a luminous, modern home.
June 21, 2016
San Francisco floating home exterior
Anchored in a small San Francisco canal, this floating home takes its cues from a classic city habitat.
June 21, 2016
modern renovation addition solar powered scotland facade steel balcony
From the bones of a neglected farmstead in rural Scotland emerges a low-impact, solar-powered home that’s all about working with what was already there.
June 21, 2016
up in the air small space new zealand facade corrugated metal cladding
An architect with a taste for unconventional living spaces creates a small house at lofty heights with a starring view.
June 21, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent marjan van aubel london cwai ming ng current window
Marjan Van Aubel makes technology a little more natural.
June 21, 2016
urban pastoral brooklyn family home facade steel cypress double
Building on the site of a former one-car garage, an architect creates his family’s home in an evolving neighborhood of Brooklyn.
June 20, 2016
Modern Brooklyn backyard studio with plexiglass skylight, green roof, and cedar cladding facade
In a Brooklyn backyard, an off-duty architect builds a structure that tests his attention to the little things.
June 20, 2016
the outer limits paris prefab home living area vertigo lamp constance guisset gijs bakker strip tablemetal panels
In the suburbs of Paris, an architect with an eco-friendly practice doesn’t let tradition stand in the way of innovation.
June 20, 2016