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James R. Udall ©1998 James R. Udall

Above: Charlie Wertheim hamming it up with his 1.35 kW, 18 module system in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. This is a heavily treed neighborhood, but the solar window is better than it looks!

or two decades the photovoltaic industry has prospered by meeting the needs of off-grid

homesteaders. From New Mexico to California, the backwoods has been the proving ground, where new products were launched, used, and relentlessly refined.

Now, thanks in part to the movement Home Power helped spawn, solar is ready for the main event. The time is ripe to transplant PV, and the energy awareness it represents, from the Sierras to the suburbs.

Nations like Indonesia and Mongolia conceivably could use PV to leapfrog from the Stone Age to the Information Age, without weaving a national transmission web. But the grid is a done deal in the U.S. Of the 100 million households in this country, 99.5 million are connected to utility wires. If PV is to achieve its full potential it must make inroads into this vast virgin market, the new frontier.

Solar Jihad

Last June, President Clinton announced a program to install a million solar roofs by 2010. That’s right, a million. That means the nation must install 230 solar hot water and PV systems every day for the next twelve years. No rest on Sunday for weary wrenches. This isn’t a program, it’s a crusade. A solar jihad.

Who are the “early adopters” who will buy these systems? What’s the best way to tap the emerging market for grid-connected PV? In this article I take a stab at answering those questions.

I direct the Community Office for Resource Efficiency, a nonprofit energy office in Aspen, Colorado. Last year we sold and installed five grid-connected PV systems, ranging in size from 800 watts to 4.5 kilowatts; in price, from $4,200 to $35,000. Four systems were installed in the service territory of Holy Cross Electric Association, a rural co-op. Four is hardly a down payment on one million, but it’s enough to give Holy Cross more grid- connected, residential PV systems than any of the 932 co-ops in the United States. As I said, it’s a virgin market.

6 Home Power #64 • April / May 1998

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