There is an excellently researched article on CitizenRE (also see my previous blog entry which has been in my top posts constantly since January) on Renewable Energy Access by Jeffery Wolfe of groSolar. As the CEO of a solar installer/distributer, he is rightly worried about CitizenRE’s ability to cannibalize his business…. especially if they sign a bunch of people up, and then go bust.
This is a valid concern, both for groSolar and those of us who want the solar industry as a whole to grow and succeed. My thought on this is if you are seriously considering installing solar on your home yourself, you should go ahead and buy it from an established solar contractor. There are many uncertainties with CitizenRE, and the most surprising result would be if they actually get their plant running and start installing solar on people’s homes on time in late 2007. If they do get everything working, 2009 or 2010 before a customer sees his/her solar panels is much more like it.
That does not mean, however, that no one should sign up. As I constantly point out, rooftop PV is a lousy investment for an individual from a financial standpoint. If you have a mortgage, do yourself a favor and use that $8,000 you were thinking of spending on PV and pay down your mortgage instead. If you really want to spend money to do something for the planet, give your friends some CFLs, get an efficient car, use public transit, or, use that money to buy the stock of carefully selected renewable energy companies or income funds. Buying stocks always puts your money at risk, but it will take 20-30 years to even recoup your investment when you put up a PV system. You can do all these things in addition to signing up with CitizenRE (or future companies which I expect will be offering PV via the rental model within a year.) If they actually come through with the panels they have promised, you and the environment will be even better off.
One other counter to Mr. Wolfe’s argument is that CitizenRE management thinks that they will eventually be up and running, and they are spending money to support the marketing effort get FRA’s signed. It will probably take a lot longer than they are saying (these things always do) but they clearly think that they have a decent chance at pulling it off eventually.
Other good blogs to read up on CitizenRE: SolarKismet, Sietch Blog. They’re both quite skeptical, and I think that’s healthy. For myself, I consider money spent on solar panels to be money that could be better spent on other green endeavors. So what if the skeptics are right? If I want to invest in solar, I’ll buy a portfolio of the better solar manufacturers out there: they’re volatile, but I expect the payback to be a lot shorter than the 20-30 years I expect from PV on my roof. In the meantime, signing up with CitizenRE costs me nothing.
Disclosure: I have signed up as a CitizenRE distributor. To date, I have not signed a single FRA (Forward Rental Agreement) because I have better uses for my time than sales. The CitizenRE links in this blog are referral links For Frank Knight, who has agreed to make a donation to an environmental charity if CitizenRE actually pulls it off and you click through one of the links here.