Twenty-nine years ago (February 2, 1977), President Jimmy Carter asked people to turn down their thermostats and wear a sweater to deal with rising energy costs. We were told to abandon our selfish lifestyle, and to think small. People soon grew tired of that notion, and those comments contributed to his failure to earn a second term as president. But from then on, conservation and renewable energy were ideas linked to uncomfortable living.
President Carter’s successor, Ronald Regan, should have supported the advancement of renewable energy technology, but instead he ripped out solar equipment that had been installed at the White House during the Carter administration. President Regan believed that drilling and mining was the way to prosperity.
The current administration, while claiming to be good stewards of the land, more closely follows the path of Ronald Regan than it does Jimmy Carter. The notion that conservation and renewable energy means giving up comfort still prevails. Fortunately, then as now, this simply is not true. We can be comfortable without burning fossil fuels and without harming the planet.
Just as you wouldn’t buy a two-seater car for a family of four, you shouldn’t settle for an undersized renewable energy system. If a solar photovoltaic system is properly designed, the user will not suffer through power shortages due to extended periods of cloud cover. Grid-tied systems simply use commercially available power when necessary. Switching back and forth is automatic. A properly sized system supplies more power than it uses over time.
For those who don’t mind a little extra work, a generator or windmill can be used to supplement energy from the PV system. To avoid burning fossil fuels, users may opt to fuel their generators with bio-diesel. In either case, the user doesn’t have to settle for shortages of electricity.
Another widely-accepted myth is that solar panels simply take up too much room to be practical. Those who accept this notion without questioning it are ignoring the obvious. Every home has a roof, and solar panels could be mounted on most of them. After all, A Roof is a Terrible Thing to Waste! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist saying that).
Additionally, it has been estimated that if a small portion of southwestern desert land was covered with solar panels, that single installation could meet the needs of the entire country. The desert southwest is an ideal location for a solar power site due to the amount of sunlight it gets, and because other uses for that land are limited. Distribution to distant parts of the United States presents a problem, but not enough to justify abandoning the idea. And the U. S. Department of Energy says "(Because of Dual Land Use), we wouldn't have to appropriate a single acre of new land to make PV our primary energy source." Notice that they said "primary" energy source. By making this statement they're saying that most coal, oil, and nuclear power generation facilities could be eliminated.
Sadly, those whose livelihoods depend upon the oil and coal industries don’t want you to know the truth about renewable energy alternatives, and well funded lobbyists pressure elected officials to support oil and coal interests. As a result, you’ll see misleading, and often inaccurate, articles regarding fossil fuel substitutes. I’ve found that I can save hundreds of dollars on my heating bill by supplementing my natural gas furnace with a corn-burning stove, but I doubt that the average person knows about that. I found out on my own, not from coworkers in the government office where I work, and not from the mainstream media. In addition, I’m starting to see savings as I add to my small photovoltaic system. As I continue my pursuit of renewable energy alternatives, I don’t intend to be uncomfortable or to give up anything. At the same time, I’m doing something good for the planet instead of polluting it.