After three nail-biting months, it looks like the BP oil spill in the Gulf is finally being sealed. This week, drilling engineers are expected to complete the “bottom kill” relief well linked to the main well that had been capped and plugged on July 15th. A combination of mud and cement will be pumped into the well to plug it permanently. Since the oil spill began, an estimated 190 milllion gallons of oil were spilled into the Gulf of Mexico.
In a post on July 12th, before the successful capping, I described the spill in Prius-mile equivalencies: how many hybrid car-miles could have been driven with the lost oil, and I said that if 1 million Americans bought hybrid cars in the next year, they could save 270 million gallons of oil–three times more than what had been spilled to date.
The solar dealer 1bog (One Block Off the Grid) has done something similar—but with better graphics—describing the oil spill in solar panel equivalencies. In one scenario, they take the area affected by the spill (roughly the size of Kansas) and calculate how much power could be generated by a Kansas-sized block of solar photovoltaic panels. They estimate that all the electricity needs of the United States, Central America, and South America could be met by such a vast array: for 25 years. (Why not indefinitely–as one commenter asked? Because after 25-30 years the panels lose efficiency and should be replaced). In another scenario, they point out that the spill has cost BP $32 billion to clean up, an amount, they say, that had it been spent on solar panels instead, could have provided enough electricity for all of Los Angeles County for 30 years.
So it’s clear from these whimsical yet hard-hitting ads that solar can indeed pack a punch if enough is invested in it, displacing significant amounts of electricity generated on the fossil fuel-based grid.
Residences can do the same thing. With prices for photovoltaic panels steadily dropping, they’re more affordable than ever. The federal government offers a 30% tax rebate (with no cap) for solar installations, and most states have their own tax incentives. You can find your state on the DSIRE website database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency.
In the tri-state area, Green Depot recommends Radiant Complete for residential and commercial solar jobs. Their strengths are in evaluating a project to determine what the clients’ specific goals are (hot water, electricity, or space heating, for example), and the site’s physical parameters (trees and other shading, roof area and angles, building orientation, etc). Then they custom-design a combination of renewable options to fit your needs and budget, and manage the installation using highly skilled professionals.
If you want to cool your house on the cheap and preserve the integrity of your roof shingles and insulation,
check out the SolarStar Attic Fan. Running on the sun alone (not hardwired into your house), it vents hot air from your attic, keeping the space cooler: preventing destructive ice dams on your roof in winter, and saving you money on air conditioning in the summer.
If you’re a student or a renter on a low budget, there are more green products than ever before on the market. The Solio charger has 3 mini PV panels that allow you to capture and store solar power so you can recharge your cell, iPod and other handheld devices anywhere the sun shines.
Tired of replacing batteries for your flashlight? You’ll never have to again with the rechargeable, solar-powered Verilux flashlight. Comes with 6 bright LED lights, and casts a wide beam.
So: big or small, there has never been a better time to look at how solar might fit into your life.