Here we are, planet earth, all seven billion of us just living, loving, and surviving. The way we live our lives however is changing pretty fast. Eighty percent of us live in utter poverty but the standard of living is beginning to rise. As technology advances it also becomes cheaper and therefore more people have access to it. The rise in living standards goes hand in hand with a rise in energy demand. In 2007 the planet consumed 18 trillion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of energy, that is expected to jump to 35 trillion kWh by 2035 (those are some crazy numbers). So we are faced with a decision. Do we want all of that energy to come from our raping and pillaging of the planet’s fossil fuels, ya know, the path that leads us to life as we know it being pushed into its finally death throes? Or would we rather liberate everyone form economic slavery by provide cheap, clean energy and if we are lucky, avoid an environmental catastrophe. It seems so obvious when its worded like that. However, there are some real (as opposed to just conspiracy) reasons why the oil/coal/gas/nuclear industries won’t just stop production and shift in a new direction. One of those reasons is because renewable energy has never be cost competitive with fossil fuels, but thankfully as promised, that excuses in now a thing of the past. What was impossible to do with solar energy technology just five years ago is a reality today. This is completely due to advances in science, specifically nano technology. In brief, solar panels once were costly to acquirer, not that efficient, and breakable; now they are super cheap, highly efficient, and will last you a good chunk of your life time. They are re-imagined to the point where you might barely recognize them. The means to collect solar energy can come from: a flexible, paper thin panel that is just printed off on a machine, a tile that both collects and stores energy, a paint (coming soon, there are 5 or 6 labs who have almost perfected it) served up in a variety of colors ready to be brushed or sprayed onto a surface, or via solar thermal where it is the heat (not the light) that is collected. I should note that the outdoor styled tiles and paint don’t work in colder climates (…yet!).
Solar energy intergrades easily in urban, suburban, and rural areas, ranging from personal use right up to full blown solar power plants. So how does one go about tapping into all this solar awesomeness? Well if your a bit handy and looking to play around with build something you could check out Information Unlimited. Just curious about what your carbon footprint might be? You can calculate it at Environ Duck. If you would like to access solar energy to supply the needs of your household, there are a couple things you will need to do first. You need to know how many kilowatts-hours you use (that should be listed on your power bills) from month to month so you can figure out what your energy demands will be, and what size and type of system that will work best for you. When you use 1000 watts of power in 1 hour, you have used 1kWh. If you use 1500 watts in an hour you have used 1.5 kWh and likewise if you use 500 watts in an hour you have used .5kWh. If you don’t have easy access to your old bills you can get some good estimates at Consumers Power. Next you will need to check out the bi-laws and other legalities in your area, as well as possible grants and subsidies you may be able to access for going green. If you live in Cambridge Massachusetts your in luck, you don’t need to decide on the placement of your solar panels someone has created a little interactive tool that shows where the sun hit best. Generally though, your solar collectors should be facing south.
I’ve been focusing on solar because I believe it is the hands down best type of renewable energy, it’s passive: super cheap, easy to maintain, and doesn’t stir up much controversy. Also, there is some truth to the fact that if I started to mention wind or hydro electric this would become a book. I believe that in order to make big changes happen fast we need to concentrate on renewables to meet our future energy needs. Coupling that idea with the fact that I’m also a huge fan of the co-op model as a means to revolutionize the world…. equals… co-operative solar energy farms of course! What could be better, really? Co-op energy farms can be found everywhere, but they aren’t all utilizing renewable energy. I was shocked.. no scratch that… pleasantly surprised to find such a wide diversity of abundances of energy co-ops around. Some with long histories and a few truly massive in size. I’ll list a few in case you happen to live in the area and want to become a member/ owner. Other then that, I’d suggest looking around your area a bit there really are a lot up and running. Joining a renewable energy co-op is a great way to: clean up the environment, provide jobs, lower your power bill, move towards energy independence, and stabilize electric prices for everyone.
The Brighton Energy Coop raised more than £200,000 from community investors to fund and install a solar roof top energy gardens (a garden being smaller then a farm). The members receive a return on their investment and cheap, green solar electricity. It has only been operational a couple of months and is already producing 10% more energy than expected.
The Energy Co-op serves 7600+ residence in the five-county area of Pennsylvania. They offers 100% renewable electricity, from solar and wind generated locally.
The Acorn Energy Co-op serves residents of 23 towns in Addison County, Vermont, and the surrounding area. They offer renewable energy.
The Delaware Electric Co-op serves 84,000 members in Kent and Sussex County, Delaware. The are a Solar Farm Co-op
The Touchstone Energy Co-operatives is a brand that represents the alliance of more than 700 electricity co-ops in 46 states and 900 local systems in 47 states. They are the largest electric utility network in the US, having 42 million member-owners, and serving more than 30 million members every day. They are located in 80% of that nation’s counties and more than 88% of all local electric co-ops offer electricity generated from RENEWABLE sources. This is where you can find one near you. >Touchstone Energy
The Volunteer Energy Co-op serves 105,000 residents all or portions of 17 counties in east and middle Tennessee including the counties of Hamilton, Bradley, Polk, McMinn, Meigs, Rhea, Roane, Loudon, Cumberland, White, Morgan, Putnam, Overton, Fentress, Pickett, Scott, and Bledsoe. VEC offers a green energy switch.
The Westmill Solar Co-op is in the process of purchasing a solar energy farm, that was build last year by a rich persons to avoid some taxes (go figure). Anyhow, power to the people! It should be running soon and when complete will be the largest co-operative solar farm (5MW) in the UK. It sits on land next to Westmill Wind Farm Co-op a 6.5MW wind farm co-op.
United Power, serves +65,000 Colorado residence on the north, east and west sides of Denver. Three years ago they partnered with Co-operative Solar Farm and found a creative way to transition a fossil fuel based energy co-op over to using renewable sources. It involved solar leasing (your land/roof, someone else’s panels) which avoided the issue of coming up with capital investment. > This is how they did it <
If you didn’t find out you are living in a zone where you can access one or if you can but don’t fully support the type of energy being used, don’t fret. Energy co-ops sometimes have fine print where they will outsource green energy by request from sources like green power switch. There are a lot of options, you could even start up a solar energy co-op of your own. That would be so cool, and it doesn’t appear to be all that difficult. Not sure where to start? Theses pages will guide you:
Due to my geographic location and language I tend to find and gather mostly information from the northwestern hemisphere. I’m sure that is as obvious as all hell, but I feel compelled to make it clear that I have come across images of co-op awesomeness happening in all corners of the world. Just today I read that over 800 million people around the world belong to co-ops and not just that, but co-ops provide 100 million jobs, 20 percent more than multinational companies! Over the last two years over 63 solar farms (+25MW-large) have started producing energy around the world. (not all are co-ops but beggars can’t be choosers). India’s Gujarat Solar Park is the biggest solar farm in the world, covering 2,000 ha of northern Gujarat, India, and it has the capacity to generate 600MW of power. It late 2013, the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating Systemis in the Mojave Desert will start producing energy. It will be the largest solar thermal system in the world, powering 140,000 California homes. So, cheers world!
**side note… I was unpleasantly (yet not so) surprise to find out out that within the USA a lot of energy co-ops are at a crossroads fighting for survival due to new government legislation: PMA, and FEMA. (**ahem fascist governments always have money for the war machineeeee)