The free power that shines on Earth from the sun is virtually limitless — the energy humans currently use in an entire year is less than the solar energy that strikes our planet every hour. This issue of Mother Earth News includes two articles offering much hope that we can reduce global warming and end our dependence on fossil fuels by tapping the power of sunlight.
“Go Solar and Save Big!” explains how passive solar building design can reduce heating and cooling costs by up to 70 percent — and solar homes needn’t cost a penny more than conventional homes. Passive solar design adapts to just about any building style and can enhance a home’s appearance. Frankly, it’s hard to understand why we don’t already routinely tap this incredible free solar energy.
“Solar-powered Mowers and Tractors" reports on folks who have converted conventional gas-engine equipment to run on electric motors driven by batteries that can be recharged from solar panels. These tractors and mowers delight their creators because solar-electric power not only makes them less dependent on ever-more-expensive, mostly imported petroleum, it also reduces their emissions of the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. The article also shows that most power equipment manufacturers haven’t yet recognized the potential of solar-electric power, even though backyard builders have shown how to put it to work and the entire world is now anxious about the rising costs of gas and diesel fuels.
Manufacturers in the transportation sector finally are realizing the benefits of electric motors, thanks in part to increasing demand for gasoline-electric hybrids (see "Two of America's Favorite Cars Go Hybrid"). In recent issues, we’ve published reports about electric transportation options, including hybrids and plug-in hybrids (October/November 2005) and neighborhood electric vehicles (April/May 2006). The more we learn about these rapidly developing technologies, the more optimistic we are that the United States will be able to create a sustainable society. The success of hybrids proves that Americans will embrace new, unfamiliar kinds of cars when they provide increased fuel economy and decreased emissions. Most major automakers offer or will soon offer hybrids, and some are developing plug-in hybrids that will power the majority of our daily driving without gas.
We think that within the next few years, clean, quiet, ultra-efficient all-electric solar-charged cars will reappear — and that consumers will love them. (For the story of those who loved, and lost, their electric cars, look for
Who Killed the Electric Car?
at a movie theater near you.) We plan to continue covering EVs with an article later this year about electric scooters, followed by one about electric bicycles next spring. Meanwhile, you can visit
to read more about solar-powered electric cars and hybrids.
A century ago, electric automobiles were more common than gas cars. Solar home design has been around for thousands of years. It’s time to head back to the future! In the United States today, private transportation plus residential heating and cooling account for at least half of our consumption of fossil fuels. Embracing solar-electric cars and solar home design will go a long way toward reducing our dependence on imported oil and averting the environmental consequences of greenhouse gas emissions — and it will save us all money along the way. It’s a win-win-win plan for a more secure future.