Is solar energy ready for take-off?

Were you aware that lethargic October was National Energy Awareness Month? I certainly wasn’t even remotely aware of it until very late in September when an extremely glossy supplement to a magazine called Solar Today crossed my desk.

Nov 1st, 2007
Th Jbairstow

By Jeff Bairstow

Were you aware that lethargic October was National Energy Awareness Month? I certainly wasn’t even remotely aware of it until very late in September when an extremely glossy supplement to a magazine called Solar Today crossed my desk. Solar Today is quite professionally published by the American Solar Energy Society (www.ases.org), a group that has the rather unfortunate acronym of ASES. The Society uses its acronym freely so I will do the same.

And, were you also aware that this relatively new society has been the prime mover behind the very successful ASES National Solar Tour (www.nationalsolartour.org), now in its 12th year with an estimated 115,000 attendees, up a whopping 30% over last year. The tour opens the doors of some 3500 solar homes and office buildings around the U.S. to connect the solar energy professionals with interested parties like you and me.

I must also admit that, even though I write occasionally about solar-energy topics for this magazine, I was not aware of the National Solar Tour. Nor have I written previously about people and projects at what you might describe as the “sharp end” of the solar spectrum where the research on solar devices reported on elsewhere in these pages is actually being put to good and valuable use (see “Photovolatics reach record efficiency,” p. 73). So, as my penance, here goes.

I must say I learned a great deal from the Solar Today supplement. If you’d like to take a look for yourself, the supplement is available on the Internet as a PDF file on the home page of the ASES Web site. I was particularly impressed by the contents of two of the stories in the supplement.

The first is a lively feature by home-building entrepreneur R. Carter Scott who describes how sustainable building techniques support his personal philosophy and make eminent business sense for his latest residential development in Townsend, MA.

For example, for a net cost of only $6000, Scott is installing photovoltaic systems in his market-rate homes that will enable a purchaser to cut electric bills by as much as 60% and have the potential of a further $3000 savings in federal and state tax incentives.

Scott has also become a fervent advocate of LEED Certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (www.usgbc.org). LEED Certification is the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction, and operation of high-performance “green” buildings. LEED gives building owners and operators the tools they need to have an immediate and measurable impact on their buildings’ performance. LEED was new to me, too.

The second article that piqued my interest is a piece about an ASES Web site page that offers the potential buyer or builder of a “green” house several ways to estimate the costs of building the home, the calculation of ballpark utility savings, potential years to a break-even point and how to determine the overall ROI (return on investment). Nothing very fancy, just a few relatively simple programs. Take a look for yourself.

In the long run, we are all likely to have to depend heavily on renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power. In fact, recent estimates by researchers at Shell International suggest that in 2060, more than 60% of our energy needs will have to be met from renewable energy sources. And the World Bank has predicted that the global market for solar electricity will reach $4 trillion in about 30 years. That’s one heck of a lot of solar cells.

Maybe you should get the Morning Line on such key up-and-coming players as Suntech Power (Wuxi, Jiangsui Province, China), First Solar (Phoenix, AZ), and ersol Solar Energy (Erfurt, Germany). Solar energy is cleared for takeoff, in my view. Don’t miss this “next big thing.”

Click here to enlarge image

Jeffrey Bairstow
Contributing Editor
In-My-View@comcast.net

Editor’s note: For another view, see this month’s Comment, “Solar electricity: Its time has come,” p. 65

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