We were invited to the Swiss Embassy last evening to hear a panel discussion, Making Solar Energy Competitive: Swiss and American Perspectives. An over capacity crowd attended the lively and insightful discussion. The venue of the Swiss embassy was no mistake as Ambassador Ziswiler pointed out, that Switzerland has been a leader in renewable energy in general and in solar energy in particularly. Switzerland generates about 60% of its power from hydroelectric electricity. And as pointed out by Patrick Hofer-Noser of 3S Industries AG, one of the other panelists, the US and Switzerland were leaders in solar energy applications n the 1990s until they surrendered their positions to other countries, particularly the Germans.
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I just returned from a holiday to North Carolina, barely missing the wrath of Hurricane Bill. My family and I stayed for a week on the Outer Banks—known for its sun and sand in the summer. The Outer Banks boasts good conditions for solar energy, direct sunlight with virtually no obstructions. The solar radiation, also known as insolation, is similar to that in Florida and parts of Texas. So where are all of the solar panels and solar water heating systems? There was barely a trace of any solar energy, except for a few solar lights scattered along the driveways of an occasional house. Despite the apparent good conditions, solar has certainly not made it to North Carolina.
Political and economic developments certainly gave renewed purpose to the ASES conference as speaker after speaker hailed the resurgent interest in solar energy and exhorted the participants to redouble their efforts to take advantage of this unique combination of events. There has never been a better chance to integrate solar technology into the mainstream of energy generation not only in the U.S. but also in other countries throughout the world. Solar energy can make a significant contribution to reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. I have summarized some of the themes of the conference and in the months ahead SolarTown will revisit some of these issues in the Learning and Community sections of our site.