Posted by Jon Roth - 2010-02-06
We have a small crystal that hangs from a suction cup that sticks to our kitchen window. It has a tiny solar cell that powers a motor that rotates the crystal, sending shards of rainbow light floating around the kitchen walls and ceiling. Naturally, it stops when a cloud passes by, and the rainbows dim. Then the cloud leaves and the cell powers up again, starting the rainbows swimming around the kitchen once again.
I love this little device for its inspiration and its symbolism. It reminds me of what I've read now in more than a few of the books and online resources I've come across over the past year, that the sun gives us enough energy in a year to more than cover all of our needs, if we could only develop our skills in harnessing that energy. Certainly, we are making great strides there. Direct sun energy is one of my hopes that we will be able to mitigate many of the globe's environmental challenges. That, or course, will require mass adoption. Like anything else that grows into a widespread solution, it must go through its stages.
First the tinkerers and fringe thinkers try it out: dawn. Solar is well past that stage.
Then some counter cultures and small pockets of the very wealthy start using it. It's not yet practical in that it's very expensive to produce modest return and requires uncommon expertise to pull off. Think of the room-sized mainframe computers of the 1970's, how large and mysterious those environments were with their lab-coated attendants, card stacks, and vacuum cleaner-sized disk drives. I have more computing power perched on my knees right now, in a two pound netbook, than fit into one of those rooms of the 70's, and the 15 or so watts this device requires to operate is a micro fraction of what those mainframes and their staffs burned up. Early morning.
As the benefits become better understood in the marketplace, more people become interested and the cost of deployment begins to come down. The sight of solar panels on a roof is no longer considered such a novelty, but people still make assumptions such as: "I couldn't afford one of those," or "those are for show, but they probably don't work very well." In many cases, those assumptions still hold true, but the tide is beginning to change.
Mid morning. I think this is where we are now in the solar energy day. This is still the realm of the early adopter.
So it's mid morning here, and in my mind, I already have a solar space heater on the side of our house, an evacuated tube solar hot water system on the roof, and an array of photovoltaic panels on the garage roof. This is my major wish list, but I don't have the funds to do it all. Were I to do all of this now, I'd be among the early adopters and would spend quite a bit more than folks will have to five or ten years from now.
To justify the spending to do some of it (can you hear me trying to justify this?) I'd have to add in some unconventional ingredients of value such as: entertainment and mission. I could spend a thousand bucks or more on a home theater system and some comfy chairs to watch movies in style, OR, we could continue to watch movies on my laptop set on a side table with the family lined up on the couch and devote that money (and add in the electricity we're not using to power the big screen) to a solar space heater. I admit that I would find my lower gas bill, since the furnace would not be running on sunny days, very entertaining.
And mission? That too. The market needs early adopters willing to shell out some cash now even though the costs will come down in the future, because fueling the market with spending is how the market creates the economic conditions by which the costs come down allowing more of the population to start participating, further improving the economic efficiency.
Yes indeed, *justify *justify. There is also the factor that I think solar is cool, and I want one.
Here's what I'm geeked about today:
The Can Solair solar space heater. Not cheap, but very groovy, appears well constructed, gets good consumer reviews, and has the potential to pay for itself (even in northern Michigan's climate) and ultimately provide free home heating.