News from Mother: Why Solar Power is Our Best Solution

Tapping the sun’s energy is the fastest and best way to provide clean, renewable energy for the world.
By the Mother Earth News editors
December 2007/January 2008
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The more we study America’s energy options, the more convinced we are that the fastest and best way to shift our energy economy from fossil fuels to clean renewable sources is to support solar power in all its forms (including wind). As Mother’s contributing editor Steve Heckeroth explains in Solar is the Solution, several powerful solar options are already up and running:

Electric vehicles charged by photovoltaics or wind power are about to hit the mainstream as new and existing automakers finally begin to produce more plug-in hybrids and all-electric cars and trucks.

Photovoltaics, together with super-insulation and energy-efficient windows, are making it possible to build homes that generate all the energy they need from the solar panels on their roofs.

Concentrating solar power (CSP, which uses parabolic mirrors to focus solar heat and generate steam to drive electric generators) is already producing utility-scale power. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that installing CSP plants on 9 percent of the Southwestern deserts could produce enough electricity to meet the needs of the entire United States!

Electricity from large-scale wind farms is already cost-competitive, and in some cases cheaper than electricity from natural-gas-fired power plants.

Do-it-yourselfers can easily tap the huge potential of solar energy with projects such as Gary Reysa’s innovative Solar Heating Plan for Any Home.

What makes Reysa’s new design so flexible is that the solar collector is built into a small outbuilding, and you can locate that building anywhere on your property to get the best solar exposure. Solar heat captured by the collector is stored in a water tank and then piped into the house and circulated in radiant floor tubing or baseboard radiators. And even existing homes can be converted to use radiant floor heating.

Some solar technologies already cost less than some of the fossil fuels we’re burning. Others are poised to drop in cost as manufacturing capacity increases, and as batteries and other technologies undergo improvements. For example, Heckeroth is testing new lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries that he thinks can provide electric vehicles with twice the range and twice the speed for one-quarter the weight, compared to lead batteries. (We’re planning a report about LFP batteries soon.)

Mother Earth News readers have been using and improving solar technologies ever since the magazine began reporting about them back in 1970. (Our first article about a hybrid car was published nearly 30 years ago!) Today’s declining fossil fuel supplies and growing concerns about climate change are making our national energy policy a critical issue. Right now, solar is looking like a far better option than trying to resurrect nuclear power or use land to grow crops for biofuels — see the charts in Solar is the Solution. We already have super-abundant solar resources and the technologies we need to shift from fossil fuels to a bright solar-powered future. Now all we need is the collective wisdom to make the right choices. — Mother 


 Energy Captured

 
 (kilowatts per acre)
 Ethanol (from corn, etc.)  3 to 4
 Wind turbines  12 to 16
 Photovoltaics 240 to 730
 Concentrating solar 1,600



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