Alternative energy — sources that have no undesired consequences unlike fossil fuels or nuclear energy — are renewable and are often thought of as “free”. There are billions of dollars being spent on alternative energy but there clearly are benefits compared to conventional energy sources. The alternative sources include biomass, wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric the tides and other things. There is controversy over how much of the world’s total energy needs can be met by the collective output of alternative energy sources but I had thought there was general agreement that even if it is 10% or even less that it was a good thing. I had written a storyabout wind turbines and much to my surprise there was a lot of pushback about whether it was a good thing at all.
It is reasonable to assume that all the various alternatives have their pluses and minuses, but of them all, it seems to me that solar is the ultimate solution. It may take a long time but solar has the potential to be the dominant — maybe the only — source of energy in the long run for the entire world. IBM says that energy saving solar technology will be built into asphalt, paint and windows. There could be huge savings by having solar heat embedded in our sidewalks, driveways, siding, paint, rooftops, and windows. The cost of solar is going to drop with the creation of “thin-film” solar cells that can be 100 times thinner than today’s materials. The new material can be “printed” and arranged on a flexible backing, suitable for not only the tops but also the sides of buildings.
I had a catch-up call last week with my friend James Marlow — founder of a solar startup based in Atlanta called Radiance Solar where he is focusing on solar thermal hot water systems for commercial customers. James sees great potential for solar energy. “Solar is not the only solution for our energy challenges but it is a serious part of the solution”, he says. We compared notes on the government role in solar and agreed that there is a hodgepodge at the state level. In Connecticut there is an incentive to install solar but the assistance has an income cutoff level. People who could afford significant systems are not eligible for the assistance. People who are eligible often still can’t afford the systems. Go figure.