Rooftop Revolution: Book Review

My first Free the Commons! book review is the Kindle edition of Danny Kennedy’s “Rooftop Revolution: How Solar Power Can Save our Economy – and Our Planet – From Dirty Energy.” Rooftop Revolution’s author, Danny Kennedy, is the founder of Sungevity, a solar company that I consider to be innovative and unique. Mr. Kennedy is a social entrepreneur and clean energy activist and, being just about my age, I was very interested in what he had to say about rooftop solar.

Unfortunately, I found that Kennedy’s book failed on two big levels.

First, the positive: Kennedy does offer a lot of support for rooftop solar. Beyond the success of his own company – which he is not shy about promoting – he provided some solid fodder about the successful growth of the solar industry in general, and made a good effort to convince the reader that solar is competitive with other forms of energy. He offers some hope by describing the success of solar in Germany and Spain, where solar accounts for 25 and 35 percent (respectively, according to Kennedy) of total power consumption. If I were considering a business in the solar industry, I would take some encouragement from Kennedy’s book.

However, his failure as an author begins with what is notably absent from his book: any attempt to outline a real solution. Kennedy is a successful solar entrepreneur, and I approached his work looking for solutions to our solar problem. I had hoped, first and foremost, that Kennedy would offer some answers to arguably the biggest question about solar: how do we afford it?

I bought this book hoping to find a few new ideas about how we make rooftop solar widely affordable and therefore widely adopted. If solar is to become a major player in the energy market and ultimately replace our reliance on coal-based power, we need the cold-hearted truth about how much it will cost, and more importantly, how we make those costs palatable to the individual homeowner, the taxpayers, and society. My belief is that our current model for solar adoption – the one where we lazily provide a few tax credits and hope homeowners adopt rooftop solar due to home resale value or out of altruism – requires dramatic and revolutionary reconsideration. I wanted to read about that revolutionary model for putting solar on every house, and I didn’t get that from Rooftop Revolution.

My second big criticism of Kennedy’s book is that while I generally found the tone of his writing encouraging (hey, I’m about to open that business!), he counterbalanced any positive message with an antagonistic tale that I found discouraging, almost counter-productive, to the intent of his work.

Read the subtitle of his book to get an idea of what the content is like: Kennedy spends waaaayyy too much time in activist mode, leading a chorus of cheers against “dirty energy” and “King CONG,” (coal, oil, nukes and gas). His Greenpeace persona is out in full force not just in one chapter, which I could handle, but throughout his book. Demonizing the opposition, as Kennedy views the traditional energy industries and all their supporters, is a very poor way to advance your views and win converts. I found myself questioning some of his claims about subsidies and tax breaks for big energy, claims that should have had little to do with the book’s message but seemed to overwhelm all other content. His tone certainly interfered with any positive message the book did present.

My response to Kennedy and others is simple: We do not lack choir preachers; we need someone who can preach to the masses. The masses cast the votes, own the homes, spend the money, and ultimately are responsible for any rooftop revolution we hopefully experience. If what you’re after is making a big change, a big societal impact – if you are serious about planning a revolution – then you need to make a more compelling case for converting to solar. Kennedy failed to make this case, and because of that, I find that his book fails to advance the rooftop solar cause.