Solar Power Forecast: Sunny With a Chance of Shade

Some of the news generated by the free power of the sun is good, some is bad, and some of it is simply out of this world.
Residential use of solar panels is increasing, particularly in Europe. (Michaela Rehle / Reuters)
May 30, 2012
A former Gourmet staffer, Lawrence enjoys writing about design, food, travel, and lots of other stuff.

New York City real estate ads often tout a property as being a “full-service building.” Brooklyn developer, Voltaic Solaire, is about to give that phrase a whole new meaning. The facade of a brownstone they’re rehabbing in Park Slope “will be covered with a solar skin and a solar awning will sit on the roof,” reports The New York Times. “The panels will generate 18,000 watts of energy a year, enough to power all six units in the 7,000-square-foot building.”

In essence, satellites in a low orbit would gather solar energy and beam it down to collection stations on the ground.

But the vast majority of the United States still has some catching up to do. Germany’s director of the Institute of the Renewable Energy Industry, Norbert Allnoch, announced that on Friday and Saturday of this past week his country had produced more photovoltaic (aka solar power) electricity than any country has ever achieved. Their output of 22 gigawatts was equal to about 20 nuclear plants and yielded almost half the country’s mid-day electricity needs.

Even farther afield, just yesterday, reported that a research team headed by Dr. Massimiliano Vasile of the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland, had developed “modular devices that could be used to gather solar energy in orbit.” In essence, satellites in a low orbit would gather solar energy and beam it down to collection stations on the ground.

Such technological advances might be preferred by some Americans back down here on Earth, where there’s still a good amount of resistance to the use of solar panels. Earlier this year, a planned solar panel installation in Greenwich Township, New Jersey, had angry residents descending upon a public hearing. And in another New Jersey community, residents protested their utility’s plan to install solar panels on existing power poles.

Even small-scale attempts are sometimes thwarted, as Bob Hiscox, the owner of a bar in the Soulard neighborhood of St. Louis, recently learned. Due to rising energy costs, he wanted to install solar panels on his roof. Thing is, Soulard is in a National Historic District and the city’s preservation board voted 4-2 against his request.

It’s a hard-edged debate. What’s more important: Developing and promoting renewable sources of energy, or only doing so in ways that don’t alter our neighborhoods and cityscapes?

Where do you fall on the question of installing solar panels?

Lawrence Karol is a freelance writer and editor who lives in New York City in a mid-century-modern-inspired apartment with his dog, Mike. He is a former Gourmet editor, who enjoys writing about design, food, and lots of other stuff. @WriteEditDream | Email Lawrence

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