According to a report by the Solar Energy Industry Associaton--in 2007, solar installations in the U.S. rose by 45% to 150 megawatts. That's equal to the total energy use of about 37,500 homes.
But that's not enough.
There's no excuse anymore for building homes without consideration for energy conservation as well as at least partial self-generation capabilities.
In addition to proper construction with correct insulation, homes and business buildings should have energy-efficient designs, orientations, and landscaping. You can retro-fit homes and building with solar panels, wind-generators, and other energy-conserving or electricity-generating devices, and this would still be a good option. However, retro-fitting sometimes is "too obvious".
New buildings (for homes and business) can be built such that the alternate energy devices and construction is integrated into the structure. They can be built such that their positioning on the construction site takes into consideration the optimum conservation of energy and use of ambient energy. Landscaping can also enhance the buildings' efficiencies.
SunPower (controlled by Cypress Semiconductor) is a leading manufacturer of solar panels that work seamlessly with flat-roof tiles and the Spanish-style curved clay tiles common in California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and other sunny areas. Lumeta, a division of DRI Energy, is also making similar "integrated panels". New advances in solar photovoltaic technology are enabling manufacturers to build solar panels into a wide variety of roofing tiles, walls, and even patio awnings such that they are not as obvious.
The time has come for folks to stop whining and complaining and fussing over the "Return on Investment" or "payback" on solar energy in the form of photovoltaic panels, solar air heating, solar water heating, and so on. It's now becoming a necessity--particularly in areas where ambient sun is plentiful.
When you buy a refrigerator or a vacuum cleaner or a washing machine or an air-conditioner, you don't ask "what's the payback time?" or "what's my return on my investment?". No, purchasing one of these things makes your life more convenient and has some benefit that you can enjoy. Refrigerators keep food from spoiling quickly, and thus can in the long run save you money (because you don't have to run to the store every day to get fresh food and you can save left-overs for extra meals--and you won't come down with food-poisoning so frequently). Vacuum cleaners are not a necessity--because you can always use a mop or broom and a dustpan. But they are time savers and perhaps more efficient at getting allergy-producing dust and dirt and pollen off your floors and other things needing to be swept. Air conditioners are also not a necessity. However, living conditions in some parts of the world would be borderline unbearable without an air-conditioner. Can you imagine a hotel (or worse yet, a hospital) without air-conditioning? Particularly in the southern part of the U.S. and in most tropical parts of the world, being stuck in a hospital bed without air-conditioning would not be pleasant. It might be downright dangerous. And... no-one fusses about the "payback time" or the "return on investment" for air-conditioners.
So, this being said, we should continue with research into new ways of capturing the power of the sun, geothermal, hydropower, and wind-power--and we should get our lawmakers to lighten up and help the construction industry and the citizens to bring electricity generation home and more in control of individuals.
Photo by Dave Gardner - Fuel-Efficient Toyota Prius Parked in Front of Home with Solar Panels. (If this were a Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle - PHEV - that had the engine converted to run on used vegetable oil, it would never need to go to a gas station! And it would be plugged in to the sun!)