Most often, when talk of alternative energy is brought up, minds immediately turn to U.S. government initiatives and incentives.

However, the lion’s share of the responsibility for remaking our energy preferences lies with individuals and businesses. We’re the consumers who demand and pay for the energy; we’re the ones, ultimately, who can dictate its form and delivery.

Google recently stepped to the fore of the movement to promote solar energy for homes. The Internet communications/information giant has invested $280 million in a solar energy company called SolarCity, which will use the money to finance free installation of residential solar panels. Homeowners will then pay a set price for the power generated by the panels.

Rooftop solar systems cost about $25,000, prohibitive for many homeowners. But with free installation, they could hope to save on their monthly home-energy bills. A typical solar-heating system provides about 7,000 kilowatt-hours annually. That’s about 60 percent of a typical household’s needs. The homeowner then buys from the utility provider the remaining electricity needed and benefits from spending less overall a month and being protected, to a degree, from rising utility costs.

Electricity prices, which have been relatively stable, are expected to rise year over year as strict clean-air regulations are enforced and utilities pass costs along to customers.

Might your home be eligible for the program, and would you benefit from it? Yes, depending on structural considerations that would affect panel installation and solar efficiency.

Now, as you might have guessed, Google officials’ motivation in the SolarCity deal is more capitalistic than altruistic. The company will earn a return on its investment by getting federal and local tax credits for use of renewable energy.

That’s the way it should work: Businesses and citizens seeking use of alternative energy because it makes economic sense (with the help of governmental incentives, in this case), and because it’s good for the environment.

Google, with its energy-hog data centers, has a company-wide directive eventually to run all of its operations without producing greenhouse gases and has interests in on-shore and offshore wind farms and domestic and foreign solar projects.

It’s just good business.

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