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June 19, 2009

Solar Day 2009

This is the first post from Natalie Gaber, Sierra Club Media intern for the summer. Give her a warm welcome, she'll be posting here weekly on various Energy/Global Warming issues.

Everyone knows that Sunday is Father’s Day (and if you didn’t know, now you do, so no excuses!), but I bet you didn’t know that Sunday, June 21 is also the first annual Solar Day. According to www.solarday.com, “SolarDay™ 2009 is the first in an annual, state-by-state and national day of recognition for the growth of solar energy in the U.S. and a celebration of the growth in our energy independence.” Solar Day was created by Elevator Communications, LLC, and the company hopes to make Solar Day a first-day-of-summer tradition.

For example, San Francisco is hosting several events to celebrate Solar Day, such as a Solar Water Heating Tour & Exhibit, where various San Francisco residents and businesses will be showing off their money-saving, carbon-reducing solar water heaters. In addition to pariticpating in organized activities, the organizers of Solar Day are encouraging communities to take matters into their own hands, whether that means conducting home energy audits, hosting a solar oven competition (added bonus: use your oven to cook something delicious for Dad!), or organizng a Solar Day walk-a-thon or Run for the Sun (to burn off whatever you cooked in your solar oven). For more ideas, check out the website.

In case you’re a little rusty on your solar energy facts, allow me to remind you why solar energy deserves to be celebrated not just on Solar Day, but everyday. I’ll start with three great facts about solar energy: it’s getting cheaper, we have an unlimited supply of it, and it produces no direct pollution. According to the Department of Energy, there are two main types of solar collecting devices: photovoltaic (PV) cells and solar power plants. PV cells, which convert sunlight directly into electricity, are typically used to heat water (e.g. for a pool) or spaces (e.g. your house). In contrast, solar power plants create electricity indirectly by using sunlight to heat fluid, which creates steam that goes on to generate power. The best part about solar power is how it stacks up compared to alternative energy sources, such as coal. In a given month, a 1-kw home solar system will prevent the burning of about 170 lbs of coal, meaning that about 300 lbs of CO2 will not be released into the atmosphere, and 105 gallons of water will not be used.

Sounds like a bargain to me.

Speaking of bargains, a common concern with solar energy is its high pricetag. Many people who would love to adorn their rooftops with an array of solar panels find that the installation of said array is prohibitively expensive, and thus they are forced to remain reliant on their local coal-burning power plant. But, fear not, relief is in sight! Increasingly, solar power providers are coming up with innovative ways to make solar power more accessible to the average citizen. For example, California-based SolarCity is now offering a SolarLease™ program, whereby customers can pay as they go rather than forking over a huge upfront fee for installation. If a lease is still too expensive for you, there are many ways to harness the sun’s energy for free, such as by drying your clothes on a clothesline rather than using an electric drier.

So, this Sunday, after you have gorged yourself on brunch with Dad, be sure to celebrate the start of Summer by taking a moment to pay homage to the sun at a SolarDay event near you.

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