MAY 2015 IN
RICK ASTER’S WORLD
Part of the Picture: Energy Strategies That Blend In
If you are looking for the new energy efficiency and electrical generation strategies, you might have to look carefully. They are more popular than it appears, because the changes blend in better than observers five years ago had expected.
- Solar: Solar installations today are not nearly as visible as a few of the early test projects were. Rooftop arrays on flat commercial roofs mostly can’t be seen from the street, and the same is true of half of residential rooftop projects, those on houses on the equatorial side of the street. On a roof slanted toward the equator (a south-facing roof in North America, Europe, or Asia), solar panels can be mounted flush with the roof and are no more ostentatious than a skylight. We are beginning to see solar panels incorporated into glass windows, and these look just like any window tint treatment if you are standing more than a few steps away.
- LED: Now that LED light bulbs have shrunk to a size similar to incandescent bulbs and LED ribbons look almost like the fluorescent tubes they replace, high-efficiency lights are harder to notice on the ceiling. You almost have to be an expert in lighting to pick out the difference.
- Cars: The newer electric cars from Japanese and Detroit automakers have exactly the same body styling as existing fuel-burning cars, and the charging door is styled to resemble a fuel door (even if it’s not in the same spot). Meanwhile, the “golf cart” electric cars that aren’t quite capable of highway speeds haven’t been nearly as popular as predicted. If you commute by car you see an electric car every few minutes, but you probably can’t pick it out in the flow of traffic. Meanwhile, you don’t need special equipment to recharge the newer electric cars if you don’t mind taking all night to charge a car for a daily commute. For a slow charge, an ordinary extension cord is all the equipment you need. Of course, the slower overnight charge also puts the least possible stress on the electrical grid. So far there is no sign that the grid will have to be rebuilt to handle the load of electric cars, as some analysts had predicted.
While you weren’t watching, U.S. installed solar capacity has been increasing by 50 percent per year. Solar has quietly gone mainstream, providing 0.5 percent of electricity nationally by one measure. The biggest area of growth in solar for the next five years will be on rooftops, and there, solar could pass the 5 percent threshold around 2020 without becoming much more visible than it is now. Meanwhile, countries like Germany that lead in solar could inch past 25 percent, again without seeing solar take over the landscape.
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