Sunday, April 09, 2006

Creative Energy and Solar Energy

There have been stories in the last ten years about consultants who go to poor countries around the world and propose solutions to local problems running from hundred of millions of dollars to billions; officials in those countries begin to believe, given those prices, that not much is possible. I can't say I'm a great fan of Bush's former Secretary of the Treasury, Paul O'Neil, but I appreciate the analysis he did on trips to Africa that in fact showed there were solutions to such things as a clean water supply that could be provided for a cost in the low millions rather than billions. More important, I appreciated the creative thinking.

We're rapidly entering an era where new solutions and ideas are needed. Here's an article I came across in the Press Democrat concerning an effective use of solar energy:
In the Nicaraguan highlands, many villagers live in flimsy shacks with dirt floors, no running water and intermittent power. But the lights stay on and the lifesaving equipment runs constantly at a rural health clinic that serves 13,000 people a year.

Babies are born, cancer and malaria victims treated and surgeries performed at the women's clinic in the village of Mulukuk/, where children play and pigs and chickens roam on the unpaved, rutted streets.

Thanks to a couple of Sonoma County men - activist Philip Beard and entrepreneur Joseph Marino - a rooftop array of shiny new solar panels keeps the clinic going night and day, a rarity in the remote reaches of Nicaragua, the second-poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.

"It's about life - giving life," said Marino, 55, founder and president of a Healdsburg-based solar power firm, DC Power Systems Inc.

To Dorothy Granada, the Los Angeles-born nurse who founded the clinic in 1991, it is a "lasting gift now and for many years in the future."
The solar panels cost $75,000 for the clinic and are expected to last a number of years. For many Americans living in the sun belt, particularly for those struggling to make mortgage payments, solar panels are still an expensive proposition but prices are dropping. While the government subsidizes oil companies (through tax breaks and other giveaways), little is being done for alternative energy outside the ethanol farm belt. Until we elect a government committed to addressing our longterm energy issues (along with issues like pollution and global warming), one possibility for those who would like to do more would be combining the needs of various nonprofit organizations with the need to continue stimulating solar energy. For example, in the sun belt regions of the US, there are many group homes, Boys and Girls Clubs, and other organizations who are feeling the effect of rising utility bills that in the long run are only going to go higher. Donating the cost of buying and installing solar panels would be a way of helping nonprofits while helping to stimulate alternative energy.

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