Solar energy: How to start a revolution on the roofs: We all know about the climate crisis. All over the world – whether in Brussels, Beijing or Washington DC – politicians, business leaders and scientists are working to reduce carbon emissions. There is good news too. Solar and wind energy have matured and become affordable over the past two decades. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), solar power in particular will lead a surge in renewable energy in the 2020s.
The future of solar energy looks bright.
But progress is slow. Global greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, and growing energy demand is too often met by fossil fuels. According to the consulting firm EUPD, almost 90% of all suitable roofs are still not equipped with solar panel generator. This figure refers to private houses with one or two families. In apartment buildings with many tenants, the proportion of roofs without a solar system is even lower.
The sluggish progress is not due to a lack of information or low levels of public support. Nine out of ten households support the installation of solar panels on roofs, making solar panels the most popular energy source. But if so many people are willing to do their part to tackle the climate crisis, why are so few acting on it?
Acceptance of solar energy requires a change in behavior.
The theory of the diffusion of innovations provides an answer: changing behavior often requires strength and discipline as well as time and money. A classic social science dilemma is the “trivial contribution problem”: the contribution of an individual to a problem such as the climate crisis is so small that it appears negligible and the individual therefore sees no reason to act.
Social scientist Harald Welzer says that’s why people need a “primary benefit” in order to act – the change has to be easy, convenient, better than before and ideally save time and money. Only when there is such a primary benefit do most people change their behavior.
While the motivation to protect the climate may sound compelling, it does not lead to a change in behavior, according to Welzer, since for many environmental protection is only seen as a “secondary benefit” and not as a primary benefit.
New players are making solar energy easy and affordable.
For a long time, solar energy was considered complicated and expensive, which led to a large untapped potential in the installation. A homeowner interested in installing a solar panel system ( either small solar panels or high power) had to deal with issues like taking out a loan or forgoing savings, finding a trustworthy installer, dealing with insurance and maintenance, etc. All too often this meant stress and significant expense, so why bother?
More recently, however, start-ups have recognized these challenges and developed new business models that make it easy for homeowners to join the solar movement and become “prosumers” – people who produce and consume their own green electricity.
Solar leasing systems on the rise.
Solar leasing is also on the rise in Europe. According to the consulting firm Deloitte, the Berlin start-up Enpal is the fastest growing tech company in Germany and the first “green tech unicorn”. Many other companies have now started copying this business model.
Enpal’s idea is simple but effective: by offering solar power for rent via a subscription model, homeowners save on high investment costs and do not have to worry about battery monitor, insurance or maintenance of the system.
With no upfront costs and low fixed lease rates, consumers benefit from clean energy generated at home, both for self-consumption and for selling surplus electricity to the grid. That makes solar power easy, affordable and accessible – and unlocks the dormant potential of clean energy in the home, sparking a solar movement.
Revolution on the roof through solar energy.
With the shift to electric vehicles, the demand for green energy is huge. With energy prices soaring, consumers are looking to move away from traditional utilities and fossil fuels, save money on their electricity bills, and do their part to address the climate crisis at the same time.
Politicians have helped photovoltaics achieve a breakthrough. Political support measures and mature technologies have lowered the cost of solar energy. Today solar power is cheaper than new coal or gas power plants in most countries. Solar energy will become the new king of the global electricity markets.
What is the World Economic Forum doing for the clean energy transition?
The clean energy transition is key to combating climate change, but over the past five years the energy transition has stalled.
Energy use and production contribute to two-thirds of global emissions, and 81% of the global energy system is still based on fossil fuels – the same percentage as 30 years ago. Also, the improvement in the world economy’s energy intensity (the amount of energy consumed per unit of economic activity) is slowing. In 2018, energy intensity increased by 1.2%, the slowest rate since 2010.
Achieving a more inclusive, sustainable, affordable and secure global energy system will require effective policy action, private sector action and public-private collaboration.
Benchmarking progress is essential to a successful transition. The World Economic Forum’s Energy Transition Index, which ranks 115 economies on how well they balance energy security and access with environmental sustainability and affordability, shows that the biggest challenge in the energy transition is the unwillingness of the world’s largest emitters, including the US, India and Russia. The top 10 countries on preparedness account for just 2.6% of global annual emissions.
To future-proof the global energy system, the Forum’s Shaping the Future of Energy and Materials platform works on initiatives such as Systemic Efficiency, Innovation and Clean Energy and the Global solar lithium phosphate battery Alliance to encourage and enable innovative energy investments, technologies and solutions .
Additionally, the Mission Possible Platform (MPP) is working to bring together public and private partners to power the industrial transition and put heavy industry and the mobility sector on the path to net-zero emissions. The MPP is an initiative created by the World Economic Forum and the Energy Transitions Commission.
The “new king” of solar energy will not be in the hands of a few, but in the hands of many, thanks to a bottom-up movement in which everyone with a roof has a stake in tomorrow’s energy supply. The time has come for citizens to take their energy into their own hands. With regulators pushing for more renewable energy and startups making it easier to generate clean energy at home, it’s time for a rooftop revolution.