Solar Panels vs. Gromdars—Battle of the Century, or No Contest?

April 1, 2017 | 1:00 am
Photo: Black Rock Solar/CC BY 2.0, Flickr
John Rogers
Energy Campaign Analytic Lead

Two technologies have been going head-to-head to capture the public’s imagination. Both represent wholly new ways of doing things, and both hold tremendous potential. But what’s the reality behind the headlines? Which one really deserves the limelight?

As with so many issues, facts and data are the way to find out. So, here you have it: Solar Panels versus Gromdars, 2017 edition.

Solar’s costs keep falling; can’t tell about Gromdars.

One obvious point of comparison between products such as solar and Gromdars is the cost trajectory for each.

Solar has made incredible strides in just the last few years. The costs of residential solar systems fell by more than half from 2009 to 2015, and fell another 17% last year. That’s incredibly good news for would-be customers.

Solar’s costs keep coming down (Data source: LBNL 2016).

In terms of data on Gromdars’ cost trajectory, all we’ve got is this, from the inventor:

‘The question isn’t whether you can afford to buy a Gromdar; the question is whether you can afford not to.’

Actually, the question is how much they cost, and whether they’re getting cheaper. I really think we’re going to need something more specific than that, data-wise, if we’re going to build it into our economy in a meaningful way.

Solar keeps spreading; Gromdars…?

Scale and costs go hand-in-hand. Gromdar, it seems, has a goal “not only put a Gromdar in each home, but in each room of each home.” The company’s initial surge reportedly saw it “selling thousands of Gromdars.” There are no more recent public numbers, though, to back up any ongoing claims of success.

So solar is apparently way ahead on that score. Last year, another 370,000 solar systems got installed in the US, mostly on homes. The 2016 additions brought the residential total to almost 1.3 million solar households—more than double the total from just two years earlier.

Another home goes solar (Credit: J. Rogers)

And real-world experience bears out that sense of the relative progress of the two technologies. Think about the people you know who have gone solar, the houses you’ve passed by with solar on their roofs, the stories of people feeling empowered by solar. My kids and I make a game of pointing out every solarized home as we drive around areas where it’s taken hold.

Gromdars? Not so much. My kids almost never shout out from the back seat, “Look, Daddy — a Gromdar!”

Everyone loves solar; Gromdars are… working on it.

While there are some indications of demand for Gromdars, there are also indications that they aren’t a slam dunk, as far as the market is concerned:

Responding to concerns about the marketability of home Gromdars, the tech entrepreneur acknowledged that most new products face resistance from the consuming public when they are first introduced.

Solar, on the other hand, I think it’s fair to say has seldom faced public resistance. That is, people have always loved the idea of a beautifully silent space-age technology calmly churning out electrons for each of us whenever sunlight comes around. It was just a question of affordability.

And now solar is the most popular energy option around: According to the Pew Research Center, 89% of Americans would support getting more of our energy from the sun.

Everybody loves solar! (Source: Pew Research Center 2016)

Pew apparently didn’t include Gromdars in its survey, though we can hope they remedy that oversight.

Solar means jobs; no news on Gromdars.

Employment prospects are another reason that someone might love one or both of these technologies. Alas, no indication of how Gromdar jobs are faring.

Solar, though, is doing amazing things in that department. The 2016 solar jobs census found last year solar employment increased by 25 percent, to 260,000 people. Solar accounted for a stunning one out of every 50 new jobs in 2016. That’s real progress.

And the winner is…

It’s not always a good idea to compare two such interesting technologies head-to-head like this. But if we do (and we have), we find (and have found) that—sorry, Gromdar—solar wins, hands down.

Don’t you, though, put your hands down. Put them up, in celebration, and cheer solar’s progress.

At a time when many key decisions in Washington about our climate and energy future seem like jokes, not serious policy, we’d be fools not to.

Happy April 1.



Posted in: Energy

Tags: solar energy

About the author

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John Rogers is energy campaign analytic lead at the Union of Concerned Scientists with expertise in clean energy technologies and policies and a focus on solar, wind, and natural gas. He co-managed the UCS-led Energy and Water in a Warming World Initiative, a multi-year program aimed at raising awareness of the energy-water connection, particularly in the context of climate change, and motivating and informing effective low-carbon and low-water energy solutions.