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Big Box Stores and Supermarkets Rush to Install Solar Panels! (And More Hoopla About Green Power)

News


Wal-Mart, Kohl’s, Safeway, Whole Foods, Macy’s, BJ’s, Sam’s Club, REI… They’re all racing to put up solar panels. Why are they racing? Well, of course there’s a very good financial incentive to do it now: energy costs are rising, and oh yeah, the deadline for a tax break is December 31st! Read more here.

 

Photovoltaic Array


Is it “Solar’s Time” for the rest of us? Well, installing solar isn’t cheap, and some even wonder if it’s a worthwhile endeavor due to its high initial cost, low efficiency (using approximately 40% of the energy input), and the fragility of the equipment (panels have to be cleaned regularly, and since the panels are fragile they often need to be replaced).

 

Having said that, if I could afford it, I would probably install solar panels or a windmill or a micro-hydro turbine simply because it is so far the best option to reduce a family’s carbon -and overall environmental- footprint. Unfortunately as of yet, there is not perfect green power:

 

John Day Dam

 

Here in Seattle our electricity mainly comes from hydroelectric power, which is technically “green” power, but has all sorts of problems attached. Aside from violating treaties, the many Columbia River dams have decimated the salmon population and have significantly altered major ecosystems. Environmentalists and Native Americans fought hard to tear down some of Washington state’s 200 dams, but most are left standing.

 

Hydroelectric power generates around 10% of total US electricity.

 

The Geysers

 

In Geyserville, the geothermal plants – once upon a time a resort where the wealthy flocked to take steam baths – are now a mess of truly ugly piping and buildings spanning the one-beautiful hills. Interestingly, by opening the power plant, they increased the amount of seismic activity in the area – we felt them frequently. Plus apparently there was extreme controversy over the fresh water pumped from hundreds of miles away to help generate the power.

 

This year 103 new geothermal projects are underway in the US. However, geothermal still generates less than 1% of total US electricity.


Wind Turbine

 

Wind power also generates just 1% of total US electricity, though this number is much higher in other countries. In Germany, for instance, 40% of power comes from wind. All in all, wind is a very clean energy source, but it is not perfect. In the US, wind turbines kill approximately 70,000 birds per year. Fortunately this is a problem that could be mitigated somewhat by placing turbines outside of migration patterns; and studies have shown the larger turbines are not as likely to kill birds.

 

It looks like PG&E will be building floating wind turbines off the coast of Northern California, despite much controversy surrounding them. Offshore ocean turbines like these cause severe ocean noise that may cause serious harm to marine mammals such as porpoises, seals, and whales, by increasing their stress levels and decreasing their ability to communicate.

 

Other Options


There are a few new solar technologies in the works that sound promising:



Next to our local composting facility, a new biogas generator will be creating power from the excess methane.

 

But ultimately, I don’t know the answer for the long-term. My instinct is that generating power as close to home as possible will allow the least amount of overall impact because you can control the potential damages that could be created. Certainly micro-power (micro-hydro, micro-solar, micro-wind) is spreading as a solution for remote villages all over the world – in the Dominican Republic I was able to see some ingenious and fairly cheap solutions. But I wonder if that’s really an option for a country as big and as consuming as the U.S.?


While home solar, wind, and carefully placed micro-hydro may not be perfect solutions (yet..?), they certainly look better from here. Unfortunately many of us cannot afford those options, or we don’t live in areas where they are possible.

 

So until we find that perfect solution for the rest of us, we have to buy into green power whenever we can:


  • Pressure local, state, and national politicians to find good alternative forms of energy – don’t let them choose coal, natural gas, or other non-sustainable sources.
  • Most local power companies offer green power for a very slightly higher cost – that extra $0.02 makes a huge difference to the environment, but probably doesn’t affect your budget too much.
  • If you can, support research on alternative forms of energy.
  • But most importantly, remember that conservation is an extremely powerful part of the solution!


What Do You Think?


Do you have solar panels, windmills, or micro-hydro turbines? Would you if you could? Any hopes for a long-term energy solution that reduces our environmental impact and carbon output, and is cheap to produce?


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12 comments to Big Box Stores and Supermarkets Rush to Install Solar Panels! (And More Hoopla About Green Power)

  • Would I do it if I could?

    I guess for me the answer would yes if I could afford to not care about the money.

    I don’t think any of these technologies are the be all and end all of power production but they are what we have and I don’t actually believe with the current energy climate there is going to be any one perfect solution. Current technologies simply take too much energy to make and are too finiky to maintain for me to consider them an insurance policy… the reality to me seems that even if the knowledge for fix and maintence is going to be there in the future replacement parts are going to be a whole lot more scarce so it would realistically be a quite short term investment… very much a move to allow me to lenghten the time I realistically have access to power rather than insure its access in my future.

    With that outlook most would wonder why I would even consider it particularly weighing the environmental costs. The reality for me is that I have health problems at this point that make labour saving devices the only way I can get many jobs done. I physically can’t knead bread by hand or more than superficially handwash clothes and well 101 other tasks that people choose not to do but could if they had to. My reality is that without access to electricity into the future much of the physical work, while I am being affected by these health issues, will be forced upon other people and as a pretty independant being the ablity to positively contribute to my family and my household is very important to me. Important enough that I would pay to be able to keep those contributions going if it was financially a gamble that I could afford to loose.

    Kind Regards
    Belinda

  • Right now, green technology is not affordable for the average American home. With the decreasing economy and our shrinking paychecks, we simply can’t afford solar panels or a wind turbine – although wind would be my choice, since we gets lots of it in my area of KY.

    Maybe once the green tech becomes more widely used, the cost will come down and make it affordable for everyone.

  • I don’t know the answer, either. But I agree that we need to try and generate power as close to where it will be used as possible. I think the exploration of different power sources right now is approrpriate. Let’s see what works, what is more effective, has the least impact. We know what does NOT work. Now is the time to go in the other direction.

  • Rosa

    I’m lucky enough to be able to buy wind power from our power company, and it’s generated regionally – most of the wind farms are displacing corn or soybeans, though there’s a big installation going up in the Dakotas where otherwise coal would be mined.

    We covered the higher cost by being more efficient, but it was only an extra $10/month anyway.

    We’re going to have to invest in efficiency for low-income housing as a form of public works – Minnesota has a group that will insulate your home and put in solar hot water if your site is suitable and you meet income requirements – more funding for projects like that would help everyone by lowering fossil fuel use and improving air quality.

    I think the long term way forward is micro-generation where you provide the site and a separate company or person provides the equipment and upkeep. Then one entity is issuing stock or bonds to do the financing and consumers are still just paying a monthly bill.

    There is at least one company offering this to corporations already. It would make microgeneration installations attractive to landlords and people who don’t feel technically capable – it’s not much differen than paying the power company.

  • If i could afford my own solar panels I would have them. same goes for wind turbines. But I cant afford it as of yet, so I pay for Green Up through City Light, and I put smaller solar sollutions like the light in my tool shed. But the good news is prices are slowly starting to come down on turbines and solar panels as newer technologies get developed. I hope to one day have two wind turbines one on each end of my garage with solar panels on the house, and perhaps solar hot water tubes on the garage roof!

  • I think we need to develop all of them, and that way we can use the ones that work best locally, and the whole nation won’t be dependent on one particular type. I also think we just need to use less. We have to recognize that our lifestyle is unsustainable.

  • BELINDA, It is a problem of the parts, eh? I guess the solar options have never convinced me for that reason, though some of the newer experiments have been made up of cheaper parts (I think they’re understanding that problem and trying to combat it). Windmills and micro-hydro turbines, though, are pretty low-tech and can be made pretty cheaply, mostly with parts that are already in our junk lots. But agreed, definitely none is a magical fix. I think about people who need medicine, hospital care, in various forms of power for medical reasons, and I hope we as a society allocate our oil resources well in the future, as it begins to deplete. Thanks for bringing your unique perspective.

    GREENE ONION, Let’s hope the cost does go down – it is, slowly, but so is the value of our dollar!

    ROSA, Those are great programs! Wow. If you have a chance, please send me more info or leave a link to the programs in the comments – it would be great for all of us to know about. Thanks so much for your comment. It’s inspiring.

    ROB, Yep, me too! We do the same with City Light. What a wonderful world you will have… Rob’s Renewable R— Can’t think of what the last word would be, but it will come to me.

    JOYCE, I completely agree on both accounts. We have to stop using so much power! Guess I should write a post about that soon… hmmm…

  • If we had our own place and could afford it, we’d get solar. Possibly wind depending on where we end up.

    One problem with upscaling solar that is rarely talked about is that all solar panels, even the new microthin ones, use rare earth elements. There are huge costs associated with extracting and refining them. It uses a large amount of fossil fuels to do so, as well. Everyone converting to solar is not likely to happen as a result.

    Our approach, that we started months ago, is to reduce our dependence on energy as much as we can and switch to manual labor. This has drawbacks, of course, because our own energy reserves are not limitless! But, using technology from other parts of the world, we’re looking at more pedal-powered options. So far, we’ve got a grain mill set up for it. We have a restored wringer washer in the garage waiting to be converted to run on the bike. You can also do threshers and small generators used to power any small equipment (welding, knife-sharpening, etc.)

  • [...] public links >> generation Giant Box Stores and Supermarkets Rush to Install Solar Panels … Saved by LOCKMANakaAC on Sat 11-10-2008 ECS P45T-A Intel P45 Express Motherboard @ PCStats Saved [...]

  • My parents installed solar panels a little while ago. So did my best friend’s parents. Both couples are nearing retirement and wanted to pay upfront for their power now, while they’re working, so they can have free power later, when they’re living on their savings. They’re still connected to the grid, so any excess power they generate (when they’re on holidays, for example) is fed back for other people to use. Unfortunately being on the grid also means they still suffer blackouts along with everyone else.

  • kate, very interesting – thanks for the insight! It’s too bad they can’t make the grid a one-way thing, so they can give but don’t have to deal with losing power!!

  • actually it is not that hard to setup wind farms, the only problem is that it requires lots of capital investment.`”:

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