From the roof of my condo complex in a sunny part of San Francisco, I can see solar panels on at least a few houses on each surrounding block.
Danny Kennedy, co-founder of Sungevity (the fastest growing company in the residential segment of the solar industry), joined EcoTuesday in July to 'shed some light' on the industry. Over 60 participants from all areas of sustainability joined us at the beautiful Bently Reserve.
Danny's expressed that the solar industry is looking good. There are plenty of jobs and the number will continue to increase as people begin to realize the potential of solar. "The solar industry already employees more people then the U.S steel production industry."
Although solar is currently less than 2% of the overall electricity use in the U.S economy, the exponential growth that is happening will fill the gap. Solar production has doubled - three times in the past three years. The price for solar will continue to decrease, making it more and more accessible for mainstream consumers to purchase. As the price of solar is decreasing, everything else (coal and other fossil fuels), are increasing in price. Solar power will soon be the low cost source of electricity as a result of this growth rate. Sixty percent of Sungevity's customers are in California, and Sungevity saves their customers 15% a month from day one with their particular solar product.
Danny pointed out that "the United States uses 47% of its surface water for steam generation for turbines" (turbines which are used to power fossil fuel stations). He continued, "fossil fuels will be a part of our future for some time. The longer we prolong its use, our children will be worse off. The faster we adopt the lower cost technologies, the better off we are, from both a financial and environmental point of view."
On July 31st, 1803, Swedish inventor John Ericsson was born (July 31, 1803 – March 8, 1889). Most famous for his design of the USS Monitor, Ericsson explored commercial applications for solar power and build seven “sun engines” between 1868 and 1875.
The “sun engines” were powered by steam or hot air and fueled by solar energy.
After inventing in England and being forced to give up all of his English patent rights to pay off his debts, Ericsson immigrated to America in 1839. He is most well known for his engines and maritime propulsion systems, such as the first marine “screw” propeller-driving iron steamship, the USS Princeton (the first propeller driven warship), and the ironclad Civil War warship the USS Monitor.
While his maritime inventions brought Ericsson fame and success, he found himself deeply distressed about the rapid consumption of coal as a fuel source. He and his contemporaries already feared it was running out. To provide society with alternatives, Ericsson explored renewable energy sources such as solar, tidal, wind and gravitational power.
In one of his many scientific papers on the commercial use of solar energy in the 1870’s Ericsson wrote, "a couple of thousand years dropped in the ocean of time will completely exhaust the coal fields of Europe, unless, in the meantime, the heat of the sun be employed... the skillful engineer knows many ways of laying up a supply when the sky is clear and the great store-house is open, where the fuel may be obtained free of cost and transportation."
In the book Contributions to the Centennial Exhibition (1877, reprinted 1976) Ericsson presented his "sun engines.” They collected solar heat for a hot air engine. He built the first one in New York in 1872 and had intended Californian farmers to use the sun engine for irrigation purposes. However, nothing came of the project. Several designs later, Ericsson’s engines were a commercial success, but the heat was supplied by methane gas, instead of the sun.
Despite this design modification, Ericsson’s life contributed to the exploration of renewable energy and his efforts paved the way for the advancement of clean technology.