Solar power goes viral

Rooftop, backyard and portable solar is the new meme

The biggest energy revolution in 150 years has arrived gradually, then suddenly. Now it’s here. Personal solar power has displaced central utilities completely for individuals, homes and small businesses.

What’s more, large businesses and corporate campuses are also contributing to the energy internet, sharing their excess power in slack times, and buying back from the smart grid when they need to. Utility-scale generation has shrunk to essential services only, heavily subsidized by the government.

The remarkable thing is, this revolution in energy didn’t come from organized business or government programs, or even environmental groups. Like the smartphone boom, it was driven by innovation and empowered individuals. Like a YouTube video or a Facebook meme, solar just went viral.

Africans were the first to embrace cheap, portable solar packs, mainly to charge their phones and give them reading light at night. Most villages in Africa still don’t have any grid power, and LED lighting and phones are invariably kept going with batteries and small solar panels.

At the other end of the scale, Californians, Australians and Germans have embraced rooftop solar in a big way; nowadays you just don’t design a roof without considering where the panels will go.

It’s a culture shift which was evident to future-thinkers, but has caught many old-school utilities and state-owned enterprises off guard. There’s just no demand for traditional ‘baseload’ power anymore!

Warning: Hazardous thinking at work

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