Ct E S T I V A L

September 23-24 2005

Located in Beautiful Kempton, PA


Exhibitors, Workshops and Speakers on Solar, Wind, Hydro, Hydrogen, Green Building and Biofiiel Vehicles.


Organic Farming ♦ Music ♦ Green Political Awareness: A True Celebration of Earth-Friendly Living

Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technology Workshops at SolarFest's New England Renewable Energy Festival Week of July 11th, 2005 • Tinmouth, Vermont

Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technologies Workshop Series featuring«

• PV, small wind and alt. fuel workshops

• Hands-on, in-depth learning with practical applications

• Comprehensive Resource Materials

• Opportunity to learn from experts in the renewables industry

For more information please visit www.revermont.org or www.solarfest.org.

independent power providers

Who Speaks for RE?

Don Loweburg

©2005 Don Loweburg

As a solar contractor, I read a fair number of journals and magazines, the majority of which focus on renewable energy (RE) topics. The other few I read regularly deal with general electrical contracting topics. Occasionally, even these mainstream contracting magazines run articles on my favorite subject—RE. Last January saw a veritable avalanche of RE articles in these electrical trade magazines.

Photovoltaics (PVs) and other renewable energy technologies are finally getting mainstream trade attention. In "View on Renewables," published in the January 2005 issue of Power Engineering, Steve Westwell, vice president of BP's Renewables and Alternatives group, says:

So what do we see as the priorities for policymakers? We do look for support that is predictable, consistent, and long-term—at both the global and local level...Our vision is of a market in which the players from the private and public sectors have a unified, strategic commitment for renewable energy, including solar, and a coherent program to implement it.

Westwell's words of support for RE are welcome, and echo the sentiments often expressed in this column and by many other pro-RE voices. Renewables do require both public and private sector support to accelerate their use and acceptance. But as far as establishing a "unified, strategic commitment for renewable energy," the reality is that even PV manufacturers are not yet unified. Rather, companies' "commitments" can likely be translated as, "we are committed to the products we manufacture." PV manufacturers have marketing plans and strategies focused on selling the products they manufacture. Unfortunately by its very nature, this presents a rather myopic vision for renewable energy as a whole.

The Other Solar Option

"New solar panel—50 percent efficiency! Price breakthrough—only US$1 per peak watt! No rebates required."

OK, so it's not new, but it is tried and true. What I'm describing is the typical performance of a solar water heating panel, located almost anywhere in the southern half of the United States. Most folks are surprised to discover that solar water heating is extremely cost effective—in some areas without having to take advantage of rebates.

The Department of Energy reports that, "Water heating constitutes 14 percent of the total energy consumption of residential buildings. In the lodging industry, 42 percent of energy use goes for water heating." These numbers demonstrate the great potential, mostly unrealized, of solar water heating.

According to the California Energy Commission (CEC), "A homeowner relying on electricity to heat water could save up to US$500 in the first year of operation by installing a solar water heating system." Over time, that savings grows even larger as electricity rates continue to climb. The CEC says that the cost of solar water heating systems decreased by almost one-third between 1980 and 1990. Today, consumers who install these systems can expect to recoup their investment in only four to seven years. And as demand increases and manufacturers take advantage of economies of scale, prices for solar water heating systems will continue to drop.

For many years, natural gas has been the cost-effective alternative to electric water heating. Today, 70 percent of the new homes and 51 percent of all homes in the United States are supplied with natural gas. But along with increasing demand, shortages and significant price increases have occurred. And suppliers of natural gas are currently planning to import liquefied natural gas to bolster supplies.

The historical advantage enjoyed by natural gas over electricity for water heating has evaporated. There is and will be an increasing opportunity for solar water heating— the other solar option and an important element in the transition to a renewable energy future.

Many Voices for RE

Some energy companies that also promote renewables are simultaneously developing their holdings of nonrenewable energy sources. According to the Energy Information Agency, "Between 1997...and 2000, BP Amoco and its consolidated affiliates increased their U.S. production of dry natural gas by 921 percent." Last year, General Electric, one of the world's largest manufacturers of nuclear reactors, purchased AstroPower, expanding its renewable holdings to include PV and wind.

Without a diligent public policy in place to support renewables and to balance the private sectors' vision, what's the possibility that corporate branding, favorably linked to the companies' renewable energy products, would be used to promote nonrenewable energy products? Here's a independent power providers worst-case scenario—imagine a main-course serving of oil or nukes, with a side-dressing of "greens." Good marketing, bad policy.

Corporate press releases and marketing efforts should not be mistaken for coherent policy. We expect manufacturers to toot their own horns—that's just part of doing business. But we should not lean or rely on them to set policy standards for energy issues that have an impact on every one of us. Corporate marketing activities cannot be a substitute for sound renewable energy policy design.

A Vision for Renewables

So, who needs to speak for the solar industry, and for the state of RE? Many voices, of course.

Readers of Home Power, its publishers, and this author have a broad vision of a renewable energy future. We know that only with the widespread adoption of highly energy efficient buildings, efficient machines and appliances, and a full deployment of all available renewable energy resources—not just PV—can future generations hope to enjoy the level of comfort we enjoy today. A successful renewable energy policy would include a portfolio of renewable distributed generation technologies coupled with building and appliance efficiency.

Probably the most important voice for RE is that of everyday people. A growing number of folks are transforming their words into action, and choosing RE for themselves. This is perhaps one of the most powerful ways to support the widespread use of renewable energy technologies.


Don Loweburg, PO Box 231, North Fork, CA 93643 • 559-877-7080 • [email protected]

California Energy Commission information on solar water heating • www.consumerenergycenter.org/renewable/ basics/solarthermal/water.html

Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy • www.eere.energy.gov

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