Solar Power is Much Cooler than it Used to Be

By: Brett Freeman , Contributing Writer
In: Green Renovations

Perhaps you’re old enough to remember the green movement of the late 1970s.

Residential solar then...

Residential solar then...

Spurred on by tax credits for investment in energy-efficient technology (not unlike those enacted in the recently-passed stimulus bill), anxiety over the global oil supply (actually, the anxiety, fed by OPEC oil embargoes in 1967 and 1973, was about the oil suppliers), and the 1979 Energy Crisis, Americans began taking hopeful steps towards energy independence. Solar panels appeared on rooftops. Wind turbines were erected in back yards. Detroit began to churn out fuel-efficient subcompact cars.

The green movement then was in many ways like the green movement now, only with louder clothes and bigger hair. Oh, and Detroit hasn’t really been on the ball this time around.

NOT sexy

NOT sexy

But there was another difference, one that bears as much responsibility for the death of the earlier green movement as the 1985 repeal of the tax credits: The gadgets last time around were lame. The solar panels resembled the glass sides of a dirty aquarium. The wind turbines were noisy and maintenance-intensive. Neither produced much energy. And no matter how many miles per gallon it got, a Chevy Chevette just ain’t sexy.

It’s different this time around. A perfect example of just how different is the photovoltaic (PV) roof shingle. Such shingles essentially turn your entire roof into a bank of solar panels, and, equally exciting, they look nothing like a dirty fish tank (although earlier versions did look kind of like fruit rollups).

There are a couple of really cool things things that have me excited about PV shingles. The first is the fact that people can now harness the sun’s energy in their homes without paying an aesthetic price. Whether you think human’s possess a noble nature or not, removing vanity as a reason not to go green can only be a good thing. Even better is that PV shingles have the potential to be part of a more comprehensive solution to energy independence. In most cases, PV roofs will be tied into the electrical grid. This keeps you wired at night, but it also allows you to sell your excess electricity to the electric company during the day, effectively

...residential solar now

...residential solar now

making your house a micro power plant. But consider what thousands of such micro power plants could achieve on a macro scale: during the day, when power needs overall are highest, but homes are generally empty so that residential demand is light, urban infrastructure could some day be largely powered by suburban-produced solar energy.

The idea isn’t that far-fetched: industrial giant Dow Chemical Co. is investing heavily in PV shingle production, which should make the technology both more affordable and more ubiquitous. A company executive says the hope is that PV shingles will become the industry standard in new home construction.

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