The 2010 National Solar Tour, organized by the American Solar Energy Society, is Saturday, Oct. 2.
If anyone understands the national security implications of enhancing the United States domestic energy portfolio, its the energy-savvy folks in oil-rich Alaska.
The economic incentives that drive deployment of solar energy solutions in the majority of America's lower 48 don't exist in Alaska, whose oil resources are legendary. But that hasn't dampened Alaskans' laudable enthusiasm for the power of solar energy. If sticking with traditional fossil fuel-fed energy sources is the norm, Alaskans are going rogue over the benefits of solar technology.
"Alaskans are forging ahead despite the fact that we don't have retail rate net metering, state tax credits, or lots of sunshine available in many other states," noted Phil St. John, MD, aka 'Dr. Phil,' who last year with ACAT hosted the inaugural Alaska Solar Tour. "Despite our huge oil reserves Alaska has one of the highest fuel prices in the nation. Unleaded gasoline is nearly $4 a gallon. Home heating oil and natural gas are high too, and rising at an alarming rate. The decades of cheap fossil fuels have caught us unprepared our buildings are poorly insulated with antiquated heating systems. The term "energy efficiency" or "sustainability" was not even talked about until a few years ago."
Dr. Phil moved to Alaska 10 years ago after falling in love with it while on a fishing trip with his son. He had been practicing medicine in solar bellwether California for 20 years. When it came time to organize Alaska's first solar tour, Dr. Phil stepped up. "I was delighted with the sheer number of site hosts and the groundswell of Alaskans who participated in the tour. I loved showing others how easy it is to live off the grid!"
"We expected a handful of tour site hosts, and ended up with 42 sites who accommodated 600 Alaskans across a 1,200 mile geographic area. Tours ran from Nome to Homer," exclaimed St. John, who himself lives on a wilderness island. Dr. Phil says it is solar's value as an independent, cost-cutting energy source that attracted about half the tour's participants.
Alaskans tend to be self sufficient, innovative people. We have a high percentage of user installed solar, wind, and thermal systems. Many of the tour sites featured folks who deployed solar and wind turbines and were living comfortably off the grid. "We are starting to focus on solar thermal technologies, which is usually more cost effective and tends to have a faster payback than solar electric technologies," he observed.
Dr. Phil St. John says it is solar's value as an independent, cost-cutting energy source that attracts many Alaskan tour participants.
"Things including electricity are expensive in rural Alaska," noted Chet Chambers, Sustainable Energy Technician for the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Bristol Bay Campus, who this year is conducting their first tour. "Nearly everything is shipped in except moose and salmon. Were promoting energy efficiency in tandem with renewable energy solutions like solar PV, solar thermal and wind as sound alternatives to expensive fossil fuels," he said.
Through the efforts of people like St. John and Chambers, Alaskans are proving more and more that solar technology is viable even when you can see Russia from your house.
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