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Solar power the wave of the future

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Solar power is getting a lot of attention these days, thanks to the California energy crisis, and the political debate that has accompanied it. And while solar power companies are pushing to get their products to market and consumers, the U.S. Department of Energy is hard at work educating the public about solar power.

The Million Solar Roofs Initiative (MSR), announced in 1997, is ahead of the wave.

The plan is to install solar energy systems on a million rooftops across American by 2010. Two types of solar technology are included: photovoltaics that produce electricity from sunlight, and solar thermal panels that produce heat for domestic hot water, space heating, or heating swimming pools.

"The Department of Energy (DOE) is working with partners in local governments, state agencies, the solar industry, electric service providers and non-governmental organizations to remove barriers and strengthen the demand for solar technologies," according to information found on its Web site.

The program is ambitious. It claims that when one million solar roofs are in place in 2019, carbon emissions will be reduced in an amount equivalent to emissions from 850,000 cars.

By 2010, 70,000 new jobs could be created as a result of the demand for solar energy systems. MSR will help reduce the cost for solar energy systems by keeping the market competitive, they say. The photovoltaic market alone is expected to exceed $1.5 billion worldwide by 2005.

Requirements and standards to qualify for this program are spelled out on the Web site (www.eren.doe.gov), along with financing opportunities and reams of general information about solar options. The same material could be obtained by writing the Department of Energy.

Other sources on the Internet include: CleanEnergy, Earthship Global Operations, Gridwatch.com Global Power Directory, Solarbuzz, Source for Renewable Energy and World Directory of Renewable Energy Suppliers and Services.

The American Solar Energy Society (www.ases.org) is another excellent information source. And, if you are so inclined, you can access an e-mail form to send to President Bush in favor of solar power at www.sela.org.

Numerous companies selling solar products are available on the Internet, too. Two good ones are www.allnaturalpower.com and www.mrsolar.com. Both have kits for the average homeowner. The first is Renewable Energy Concepts Incorporated (REC). The Astropower Residential Solar Kit will provide an 800-watt solar array supplying 80-120 kilowatt hours per month, assuming 4-6 peak sun hours per day. Cost is $6,959 including shipping. They have larger systems as well.

If that price takes your breath away, consider Mr. Solar's starter kit. This custom-designed system can run DC lights, fans and small appliances. For $580 you get a 60-watt solar module and all you need to install it yourself.

So what's the future of solar power? Scott Harris, in an article for TheStandard.com, sees solar thermal technology entering a breakthrough phase.

Stirling Energy Systems, with the help of Boeing, is developing the Stirling dish, which is designed to generate solar energy on an industrial scale. Harris describes other systems being developed by Bechtel and other industry giants. Access the article at www.thestandard.com.

It is systems like these, capable of producing hundreds of times more energy than solar panels, that we must develop and put into use, in order to really make a dent in our dependence on fossil fuels. Sadly, these technologies have languished for two decades, thanks to lack of public and governmental support, Harris says. Perhaps that is about to change.

Contact Vivian Taylor at 474-1386 or online at viv@cybertrails.com.

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