Sunday, April 29, 2012

Does Solar have a bright future

Many things in our society have a short shelf life. Think the first 'brick' satellite phone, Betamax and VHS videotape, Boombox's... you get the idea.
 I am convinced though that solar will not be one of these items in as much as the underlying technology of direct harvesting of the sun's energy will prevail.
Is today's solar as ungainly as an Atari or leather cased phone, possibly but power directly from the sun is here to stay. Change can be painful and frightening, my early memories are of the English countryside where paths were 1000yrs old, castles were over the next hill and pubs worth their salt were older than anyone living. I have a deep appreciation for history, tradition and architecture.
Despite this or maybe because of it I would like to see solar power incorporated into every new building and retrofitted to as many existing buildings as possible. Not because I make my living with solar, but because solar will contribute to my living in the future.

To be interested in solar you have to have studied our energy history and our energy production today. You also have to clearly look at the next 50yrs of uncertainty and change with resolve. America is covered when it comes to electricity production, we use 50% coal powered plants today, we have over 100yrs of coal reserves and a lot of natural gas, we have 104 Nuclear power plants with more to come. Our society will not collapse tomorrow if we don't revolutionize our energy production methods for electricity, so rest easy. 

We do however have to start planning for where our electricity will come from when these reserves deplete. Reason number one is that anytime you are dependent on one resource you are exposed to price spikes and manipulation. Secondly you are guaranteed ever increasing energy prices as fuel sources are depleted. Lastly these are finite resources and we do not currently have an alternate resource plan. This glaring truth is where the uncertainty and challange comes in. We cannot forever continue to do as we have done and this is frightening even to me and I see a prosperous future where we have a sustainable future.

Today the nation gets 47% of its oil from outside sources, we have multinational corporations who no-longer feel the United States is their primary customer and even if the US is their biggest customer they will do whatever they can to promote shareholder value. If you look back to 2008, the price of gas sucked the wind out of the economy as much as housing. 30yr mortgages don't unravel overnight even if they were sub-prime. The engine lost gas when gas was $5. I am not vilifying big oil I am stating a fact, when your corporation is publicly held, in many, many countries and held to higher standard in their host country it can be easy to forget that the fabric of this nation is based on capitalism but that a strong domestic economy is imperative to the overall health of the company.

American Oligarchs of old did not lose sight of the fact that as they prospered and their employees prospered so did the nation. James Buck Duke saw this and in later life he endowed several Universities, hospitals and other 'greater benefit' projects throughout the Southeast US.  Andrew Carnegie got this too and while both men fought unions and wanted to protect their companies they also saw that corporate re-investment into the fabric of society is the strength that builds companies for generations.

I once read of a house in England that was over 400yrs old, the first owner of the house had planted the tiny seedling of a  great oak when he built the home so that one day the tree could replace the main beam in the great hall, that is resource planning.  To be completely honest I see solar as resource planning but also an expression of the sublime, a sound design with a noble cause.  If more of us could figure out how to both be successful in business and try and create the sublime what a nation this could be.


  1. Agree 1000%. I am also claimed my self as solar man, more on solar thermal though, and first get acquainted with the technology after reading Farrington Daniels' book some 20-25 years. When I was studying in Japan. Please carry on.

    Kamaruddin Abdullah

    1. Thanks for the comment Kamaruddin Abdullah, may all of us working for a sustainable future be successful.