Issue Number 13 - October 2010

Hello solar power enthusiasts (and 'Welcome to the club' if you're a new subscriber).

This month I'm going to tell you why we should forget all about solar power and concentrate on energy efficiency instead.

Alright, maybe I'm being a little dramatic. I would, however, like to tell a little story about the bitter rivalry between energy efficiency fans and those who prefer green energy solutions.

For those of you who don’t know about this rivalry, there are two groups who have very different views on how our energy situation should be handled. We’ll call these two groups the “Producers” and the “Reducers”.

The “Producers” are the renewable energy fans who want solar panels on every roof and wind turbines in every field. The more green energy the better, as far as the “Producers” are concerned.

Then we have the “Reducers” who have no time for solar panels or wind turbines. The “Reducers” are only interested in energy efficiency measures like new windows and lighting fixtures that reduce the amount of energy a person consumes.

Now I run this solar website and this summer I was the challenge coordinator for SWITCH Kingston’s 1000 Solar Rooftops Challenge. This seems to put me squarely in the “Producers” group who favour renewable energy solutions.

Now when you promote green energy, you make yourself a target for any “Reducer” who wants to debate energy policy. In other words, you’re setting yourself up for a showdown. And sure enough, I found a showdown of my own this summer.

Now let me set the scene for you: It’s July 31, 2010 and I am answering people’s solar questions at a public event. It’s a beautiful day and everyone seems to be in good spirits. And then I see him across the street, nodding his head and watching me as I hand out a brochure. I could tell from the look in his eye that he wasn’t buying what I was selling. He was definitely a “Reducer”.

Our eyes locked in a brief stare down and then he sauntered slowly across the street until he was directly in front of me. He looked me straight in the eye and took his best shot: “You do know that people shouldn’t install solar panels until they’ve made their home more energy efficient, right?”

He was a “Reducer” all right, and he meant business. So I thought fast and told him what I thought of his little theory: “Yes,” I said “Energy efficiency is the first step towards sustainability.”

He recoiled in surprise and eyed me suspiciously as if he couldn’t believe that I had actually agreed with him. He was speechless so I took another shot. “Efficiency is the low-hanging fruit in the sustainability orchard” I said.

He looked at me with a bewildered expression. “Yeah, it is.” he said as he staggered away shaking his head.

So did I win the showdown? Well, the way I see it, there never really was a showdown since energy efficiency and renewable energy have always been on the same team. They are not competing with each other but are instead complementing each other and bringing us closer to a sustainable future.

Now, how exactly are they doing this?

By getting people to think about energy in the first place.

When you work in the energy or energy efficiency industry it is easy to get a little too close to the issue and forget just how little most people think about energy. The first step toward changing people’s energy habits is raising their awareness about where their energy comes from and how it gets consumed. This is a perfect job for the dynamic duo of renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Efficiency often represents the most cost-effective solution available. This gets the attention of anyone who is looking for a way to save money on their electric bill. These people will quickly learn just what their beer fridge is costing them.

Renewable energy solutions like solar and wind are a little more “in-your-face”. These cool contraptions get people’s attention and inspire them to learn a little more about wind energy or think about whether they could put solar panels on their roof.

So a person trying to reduce their electric bill may be coming at things from a different angle than a person who just thinks that solar panels are really cool, but in the big picture, both of these people end up becoming aware of the same basic truth:

We use energy every day and it has to come from somewhere.

From this basic truth a person might start asking some questions:

How much energy do I use? How could I use less of it? What is the cleanest form of energy? How much does green energy cost?

These questions build a foundation of awareness. This awareness allows a person to begin to change their energy habits for the better.

So whether you’re a “Producer” who wants more renewable energy, or a “Reducer” who prefers more energy efficiency, just remember one thing: In the big picture, we’re all on the same team and to reach a more sustainable future we’ll need both sides of the equation.

So maybe we shouldn't forget about solar power after all. Instead we should make it part of our overall energy outlook along with other renewable energy sources and energy efficiency measures.

Let's finish up with a look at some new Solar Power Beginner features:

You can reach me through our Contact Form if you've got any comments or suggestions.

Good luck in all your solar endeavors!


Tyson Champagne, Founder

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