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Is it time for solar power to shine?

Shelburne Ferguson • Apr 1, 2019 at 12:00 AM

Many power companies across America are predicting solar power will become the lowest-cost source of energy option within the next 10 years.

Already in the Northeast Tennessee area, some home and business owners have adopted solar energy and seem pleased to have it. Even large utilities such as Xeel Energy in mid-America from Colorado, Texas to Michigan are asking solar companies for proposals to build solar power facilities along with wind power generators.

On a trip from Los Angeles to Arizona several years ago, my wife and I saw hundreds of wind power generators. Our recent experience in Northeast Tennessee tells me we in this area could effectively use our windy climate for wind generators. Pacific Gas and Electric has committed to providing 55 percent of its renewable energy sources including solar by 2025, or sooner. Several power companies are seeking innovative ways to specifically generate solar power for “we the people” such as stick on solar tiles, solar roof shingles and solar windows which will serve a dual purpose of allowing us to see through the windows as well as generate solar power.

Startup power companies are searching for innovative ways to offer lightweight solar panels rather than the heavyweight alternatives available today. A Los Angeles startup called Sunflare has opted for very light, flexible panels that are very thin. The material from which the panels are made is so light and flexible that the panels can be mounted almost anywhere and the panels can be attached in a curve to accommodate the sun’s path. While the Sunflare panels are more expensive than traditional panels, the flexibility of the Sunflare panels and their lightness and ease of installation reduce the overall cost significantly.

Allow me to give you a little personal history of when my wife and I considered solar panels for the home we now live in. Solar panels for a home were a rather rare thing way back then. Fortunately, we had a friend who was an engineer familiar with solar energy. What he first suggested as we built the home was that we “over insulate” our home by building thicker outer walls and add six inches of wall insulation, fewer windows on the north side of the home, use triple pane windows, 12 inches of insulation in the attic area and two heat pumps, one for the second floor and one for the main floor. Since a solar system back then required a storage area for “batteries” to maintain the solar power at night, we provided an underground area that we call the “Dungeon” to this very day.

Once we finished our dream house, we asked our engineer friend to do a calculation of how effective our solar plan would be if installed. SURPRISE! He discovered the extra work he had recommended we do to over insulate the house caused him to say in these words that we have never forgotten: “The way your home is now insulated, you will never save any additional money by installing a solar system. This is the best you can do.” We couldn’t believe that was true though we trusted our friend’s engineering ability. What we have learned through the years is that taking our friend’s first recommendation for over insulating our home allows us to use our “Dungeon” to store our raft of Christmas decorations after the celebration is over.

The solar innovations and solar technologies continue to develop and offer remarkable products. One of the latest is a Solar Window which is a transparent glass window that one can see through, but is also capable of using the sunlight which passes through the glass to generate electricity as if it were just a solar panel. Two companies, Solar Windows Technologies and Triview Glass Industries join together to use liquid transparent coatings that make the glass act like a photovoltaic device while allowing you to see through the glass. Believe it or not, but these two companies plan eventually to turn skyscrapers into vertical electric power generators. Since buildings consume 40 percent of the electricity annually in the U.S., the company anticipates that solar window coatings could reduce the $150 billion that it costs for these buildings’ electricity use in half.

Since there appears to be a growing concern over an apparent harsh climate crisis, the advancement of solar energy uses which are being advanced not only by U.S. companies but by others in the world, could transform our concerns to significant support of the advances of solar-powered answers to the social and health solutions and other positive developments across the world.

Mr. Ferguson is a Kingsport attorney. You can reach him at: 423/246-3132.

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