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A Solar Revolution May Be Coming to Your Town

A little-known policy is turning sleepy central Florida into a green energy hub. Could it do the same for America at large?

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Congress, meanwhile, is clearing away some of the logistical stumbling blocks, like our nation’s aging, patchwork electric grid, which could make the intermittency of renewable energy difficult to manage, especially if large quantities come online at once. The stimulus package helps solve this problem by providing $11 billion to modernize our energy infrastructure and develop a "smart grid," with advanced sensors and distributed computing capabilities, so it can instantly reroute power to meet demand or avoid system overloads. This should pave the way for a better integration of renewable electricity—and, perhaps, open the door to strong, consistent policy that channels America’s entrepreneurial drive into renewable energy.

The drive is there waiting to be unlocked. Just ask Tim Morgan. As the sun dipped behind the live oaks outside Ballyhoo, and "Margaritaville" blared over the speakers, he let me in on the grander scheme behind his Gainesville venture. As he trolls the city for rooftops where he can install photovoltaic arrays, he’s purposely gravitated toward chain stores. That way as other cities and states adopt feed-in tariffs, he’ll have ready-made inroads. "I wanted the system to be scalable, so I can expand," he explained. "If the incentives are right, there’s no reason there couldn’t be solar panels on every Walgreens and Sam’s Club across the country."

Will Tim Morgan turn out to be the Sam Walton of solar power? Who knows. But hearing his plan, I definitely had the sense he was a man on the ground floor of something big.

Mariah Blake is an editor of the Washington Monthly. This story is part of a "Big Ideas" series published in partnership with the New America Foundation.