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Solar Modules Will Be Beautiful

By Joseph Ocampo

Beautiful Or Ugly?

My sense of public opinion is that it errs on the side of ugly or disruptive. And to some degree that makes sense: they are just rectangles attached to roofs, sometimes at an angle, covering up the color of the roof shingle or tile, maybe disrupting the color scheme of the original home.

But sometimes the reaction to technology has less to do with its visual appeal as it does to larger symbolic and cultural issues. In the 19th century, the Luddites famously opposed the English Industrial Revolution’s machinery. Luddites didn’t dislike machines because of cost, efficiency or aesthetics but because it allowed less-skilled people to make the same products. The machines weren’t just machines to a Luddite: they were threats to livelihood, threats to family.

The politics of energy production and cultural attitudes about energy all contribute to how we see and understand solar photovoltaics on roof tops. But I think the economics of photovoltaics will eventually win the day over other issues: they save money and they work.

As solar modules take up more of the roof space in neighborhoods, and architects begin designing them into the structure of new homes, we’ll change our minds about how they look. It won’t be because of any societal epiphany though. Our views will change simply because they are there. It’s called the mere-exposure effect: we tend to like something more the more we come across it. That’s all it will take for most of us to decide Solar Modules are beautiful. Of course it doesn't hurt that they will save us money while making clean energy...  and that's not threatening at all.