Solar energy gains ground

While there has been no shortage of presentations and workshops to attend in the first days of the forum, one particular issue that piqued my attention came up in a casual early-breakfast conversation with Martin Wiese, a researcher for the International Development Research Centre. Apparently, China is emerging on the world stage as a major producer and user of solar energy, especially solar thermal power.

And China is not alone.

While solar power solutions were first suggested in the 1970s, it wasn´t until recently that governments have begun giving users incentives to switch to renewable sources of energy. I learned how, for instance, Germany put a solar power subsidy program in place a decade ago to encourage the use of renewable energy. Wiese, who is originally from Germany, tells me that today at least 60 percent of that country´s population are aware of how solar power systems work although only a fraction of them actually afford the clean technology.

Solar panels, known as photovoltaic cells (PV´s), are placed on rooftops to trap the heat from the sun and turn it into electricity. One panel could generate up to 200 watts of electricity when the sun shines. To put things in perspective, a five-panel system could produce anywhere between 10 and 15 percent of the total amount of electricity a home would consume annually.

Of course, the systems cost a fortune to purchase and install (US$12,000 for a two-kilowatt system) but Wiese feels the effort will pay off down the road.

“The energy law is taking off right now. People who already switched to solar power are on the safe side now if fossil fuel prices go up with the economic crisis.”

It appears that widespread anxiety about the harmful effects of burning fossil fuels, coupled with unstable energy prices and improved technology, are creating a favorable market for the exploration and hopefully the affordability of renewable energy systems.