Solar's future shines bright

Beyond the Curb


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In anticipation of a Father’s Day away from home, we decided to have an early celebration in green style, so to test drive an electric car we went. We scheduled a test drive of model X with the Orlando-Eatonville Tesla. Whoa! The car is just amazing and the idea of not ever needing an oil change or a tank of gas again is super attractive. In fact, what could be better than a zero emission car with reduced maintenance cost for life? Only that same car powered by solar energy — and that is probably not far from happening! 

From the demands for solar energy infrastructure investments to the research on transparent solar panels, we should soon be having solar chargers for car batteries, solar roads (solarroadways.com) that charge your car as you drive or even auto-recharging vehicles that use the sunlight that hits their own body structure and windows to recharge their battery. 

Richard Lunt, assistant professor at Michigan State University, is working on creating a transparent solar panel “to deploy solar energy in a non-intrusive way,” the kind of “solar harvesting surfaces that you do not even know are there. […] Researchers are confident that [this technology that uses transparent luminescent solar concentrator (TLSC)] can be scaled all the way from large industrial and commercial applications, down to consumer devices, while remaining affordable.” (ExtremeTech.com)

The future points to solar and Florida residents will have the chance to show their support to solar energy by voting YES on Amendment four that will be on the Aug. 30 primary ballot. If passed, that amendment will exempt renewable energy devices, including solar, from the tangible personal property tax as well as the assessed value solar systems on commercial property. So in support to solar, vote YES 4 The Sun.

Solar energy has gotten investors’ attention, too. Mike Eckhart, Citigroup managing director, for example, has been paying attention to the market for a long time and declares that investing in renewable energy is good business. The market for renewables has grown so much that “in the last five years,” he says, “the cost of solar electricity dropped 80 percent and the cost of wind dropped 50 percent.” 

Eckhart is excited to see the change and explains why investing in manufacturing-oriented products is the way to go. In sum, resource-oriented products, like natural gas, are a bad investment since the more we use of it, the less we have left, and the higher their cost. Manufacturing-oriented products, like solar energy, are the opposite — the more we produce, the less they cost.

On top of that, there’s the impact of price volatility of resource-oriented products that “can have a negative effect on the economy, consumers, and the environment,” affirms the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), and Florida heavily (over 68 percent) relies on natural gas. 

Conservatives for Energy Freedom (CFEF) director Debbie Dooley also fears that “too much reliance on natural gas is risky for utility customers because the price is so volatile.” 

More and more organizations are realizing that, making them back investments in renewable energy.

In the meantime, Florida Power & Light (FPL), the third-largest electric utility company in the United States, is greatly investing in natural gas. It opened its Port Everglades gas-fired power plant this past April and has submitted a rate hike proposal to cover, among other things, investment of $1.3 billion toward a new natural gas-fired power plant. The company has also spent more than $4 million of its profits to support policies against maintaining or expanding rooftop solar development for customers. FPL investors may gain from those moves in the short run, but what about FPL’s more than 4.8 million customers? What about the environment?

As I now prepare to attend a Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s conference in Washington, D.C., I’m bringing those questions with me in hopes that more can be done to positively influence a trend that we’ve seen for too long. I’m sure changes need to happen because “change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future” — John F. Kennedy.