Sunday, April 25, 2004

Little Solar Houses for Everyone

Solar power is too expensive and too impractical for mainstream use in the U.S. Or, is it? Truth be told, there are already numerous examples of the practicality of solar power in both business and home applications. Grist Magazine, a feisty little publication that provides "gloom and doom with a sense of humor", makes it a point to bring attention to promising developments on the alternative energy front. One of their staff writers, Amanda Griscom, highlighted a very apt example in her article, Little Solar Houses for You and Me. A collection of homes in Tennessee being built by volunteers from Habitat for Humanity use rooftop solar panels, insualted walls, windows and floors, energy-efficient lighting and other techniques to reduce the overall energy consumption to less than half that consumed by a conventionally constructed home.

This experimental project, co-sponsored by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), is one step towards a larger goal: the net-zero-energy home. Simply put, the net-zero-energy home will generate as much power as it consumes. This goal is reachable, so the story goes, only if consumer demand increases to the point that the cost of solar panels drops to about a third of what they cost today. To make that happen, we need incentives, public education, research, and perhaps a new administration more interested in investing in the future rather than propping up a dying oil industry.

Need more convincing? The Rocky Mountain Institute, a leader in energy efficiency studies and programs, includes details of more than 200 green building projects from around the world on their Green Developments 2.0 CD-ROM. The technology is out there, along with the answers to a brighter energy future.