It is commonly assumed that compact cities, with built-up central business districts and densely-populated residential areas, are more energy efficient than the low-density suburban sprawl that surrounds them, which are dependent on oil for high levels of private transport use.
In a future with photovoltaic solar panels on suburban roofs and increasing use of electric vehicles however, experts have predicted that suburbia will adopt a valuable new role — transforming from a high energy consumer into a vital power provider for the city.
I’ve long thought that distributed solar energy makes the most sense to address our future energy needs. It’s easily one of the least expensive ways to power our homes and appliances (and soon our vehicles), not only because solar panels are cheap, but because putting them directly on our large, already-built roofs massively reduces the need for expensive infrastructure.
That infrastructure is a key point that’s often overlooked as we argue whether to go nuclear or use hydrocarbons or massive solar farms – all of those solutions require the same sprawling web of stations and power lines and the expensive maintenance that goes along with it, not to mention the side-effect of single points of failure that can take down entire cities’ power supply with one defective part or wayward lightning strike.
Distributed solar all but eliminates those problems, making each house its own powerplant and (optionally) linking them all together to share the electricity they collectively generate. It’s the cleanest and most elegant solution I’ve seen yet.