Commentary

Save the Ozarks with Solar Panels

Posted by tbaker |

Making RipplesBy Amanda Bancroft

Sometimes, living a sustainable lifestyle is as easy as eating a delicious organic cookie. More often, it’s as hard as trying to figure out how to fuel your coffee maker with a pet hamster. For those who don’t have a hamster wheel but still want to make the switch to an alternative energy source, it’s helpful to have strong motivation. Few motivational forces can match a gigantic power line cutting across your land, damaging the fragile karst that protects our groundwater, and creating an eyesore at historic recreational areas. That’s enough to make almost anyone want to switch to solar.

For me, this is still a scary decision even if I am highly motivated. So a solar energy project benefits from a supportive community to back you up. Ripples’ blog is 100 percent solar-hosted and we are planning to use solar panels for our earthbag headquarters. Along the way, we’ll be sharing every resource we encounter so the journey may be easier for you. One such resource is Jerry Landrum, Chair of the Eureka Springs Climate Action Progress Committee. Landrum brings his solar panels to power the Eureka Springs farmer’s market, and answers any questions visitors may have about solar. According to the Eureka Springs Independent, Landrum and his team of carpenter Carl Evans and electrician Lyle Pinkley recently installed panels on the workshop of Michael and Faith Shah. The couple has devoted themselves to fighting SWEPCO and switching to solar. “We’ve always wanted to go solar….SWEPCO lit the match and got us off our butts,” Faith was quoted.

For a sense of community momentum in 2013, why not check out SavetheOzarks.org and join the Shah family in switching to solar? Save the Ozarks opposes SWEPCO’s plan to install a new 345 kV transmission line from their Shipe Road Station near Centerton (Benton County) to their proposed new Kings River Station northwest of Berryville (Carroll County). This would involve bulldozing 900 acres of Ozark forest for their 50-mile-long power line, and routinely spraying herbicides along the right of way. Using alternative energy reduces demand for forest-gulping electricity sources like this project.

The most basic pieces necessary to switch to solar power, besides the financing, are the panels, a charge controller, a battery bank, and an inverter. You can start small and focus on getting just one of those components while studying solar power and deciding what’s best for you – your home might even benefit from incentives and rebates. (For more information, visit RipplesBlog.org.) There are local businesses that can provide expertise and products, such as Rocky Grove Sun Company, Sun City Solar Energy, and Stitt Energy Systems. This supports the local economy, reduces the demand for power that destroys the Ozarks, and saves your hamster from having to power your entire house.

Ripples is a 100 percent solar-hosted website that includes a blog, newspaper column, resources and services for individuals and nonprofit organizations. Read more on this topic and others at www.RipplesBlog.org

7 Comments

Pat Costner August 9, 2013 at 7:31 am

Excellent article, Amanda. Yes, distributed renewable power generation is the solution to our immediate problem — SWEPCO’s plan to run a massive transmission line through heart of the Ozarks. With distributed power, there’s no need for huge power lines. Distributed power is also a key part of solving our global problem — climate change. My home has been operated on solar power for seven years … and SWEPCO wants to clear-cut a strip more than twice as wide as I-540 through the middle of my 135 acres of undisturbed woodland, drill holes 6-10 feet wide and 30-40 feet deep to build foundations for a series of towers that are twice as tall as the tallest tree on my place. This is what SWEPCO wants to do through 50 miles of the Ozark Highlands. For more information on SWEPCO’s plan and what you can do about it, visit our website, http://www.savetheozarks.org.

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Donna Thompson August 9, 2013 at 10:34 am

Great article, my husband Scott and I {in the picture}lived off grid for 14yrs.and now have a grid inter tie ,to run our simple system backwards:Being apart of the solution ,is not hard,and can be less then investing in a new car.Solar is a shift in conscience,the wave of the Now.We are graced with Solar Wizards around N.W. Ark . They help to make it easy!!!!

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Katie Johnsonius August 12, 2013 at 3:09 pm

Amanda, Pat, Donna and Scott: I applaud all of you for your commitment to solar power, or any renewable source. I want to know more about the cost… I live on a limited income,I am nearly 62, and I can’t imagine being able to afford the switch, let alone recovering the cost in what is left of my lifetime, although arguably, if I sold the house, I’d get a better price for it.

I have two concerns to address here. The first is centered locally: SWEPCO’s proposal has nothing to do with supplying us in Eureka Springs with power. If every home-owner in this area switched to solar, SWEPCO would still be crazed about spoiling our land for their profit.

My second concern is broader: I understand that the manufacture of solar panels entails the use of dangerous and potentially toxic chemicals and processes. Please see, for example: http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/HWY/OIPP/docs/life-cyclehealthandsafetyconcerns.pdf

Our past is riddled with examples of a rush from one horn of a dilemma to another. It seems to me that one should only buy solar built in the US or in Germany, and even then, not from any slack state such as Texas, where no safety regulations are monitored.

NOTE that the manufacture of the purified silicon used in solar panels is fueled with electricity.

And the disposal of spent solar units is yet another issue.

Please believe me… I am not opposed to solar power or wind power. We MUST find another way! I am just worried both about my own personal economy, and about the workers and those who live around the manufacturing plants that produce solar panels, and I do not want us to rush from one stupid mistake to another.

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Amanda Bancroft August 18, 2013 at 11:39 pm

Wow! Thanks Katie, Donna and Pat for your thorough comments! I’m not directly notified when a reader comments here, so, I just saw your comments today. One of the awesome aspects of Ripples is that I learn just as much, if not more, from readers as they learn from me.

My husband Ryan & I began this journey for several reasons, one of them being that we didn’t see many stories of non-expert, average people learning from square one what to do to live as sustainably as possible – most stories begin to be told once someone is already off-grid, which is intimidating for many to make the switch. Our story is beginning from where we are now, pre-off-grid, learning and making choices that create the maximum amount of ripples.

Yes, I was aware that solar panels are not squeaky clean, so to speak. You’re right! Their manufacture and disposal, as well as initial cost, is less than ideal. We have a friend in Germany who used to work in the solar power field, and he’s taught us a lot about the benefits and drawbacks. Also, we can’t underestimate the power of reducing our electricity consumption, which is the perfect first step for us and most people. I believe that as technology evolves, solar panels will become more sustainable and renewable energy creates more positive ripples overall than non-renewables that have far less potential.

Ripples is constantly weighing choices in this context:

What will the effect of this choice be on our health as a married couple? The health of the community, country, world, and great-grandchildren of tomorrow?

Which choice creates the LEAST amount of harm, holistically speaking, in the world?

Which choice has the MOST potential to make ripples in our lives and in the world, creating positive opportunities now and in the future?

I welcome all of you to follow along “in real time” as we figure it out together, at http://www.RipplesBlog.org (If you comment on a post or use the contact form we will see it immediately)

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Amanda Bancroft August 18, 2013 at 11:46 pm

Adding to the discussion, I hope, is this comparison between energy sources which is what we look for when deciding “most healthy, least harmful, most potential.”

From Wikipedia with outside cited sources:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_power#Environmental_impacts

Environmental impacts

Unlike fossil fuel based technologies, solar power does not lead to any harmful emissions during operation, but the production of the panels leads to some amount of pollution.

Greenhouse gases

The Life-cycle greenhouse-gas emissions of solar power are in the range of 22 to 46 g/kWh depending on if solar thermal or solar PV is being analyzed, respectively. With this potentially being decreased to 15 g/kWh in the future.[71] For comparison (of weighted averages), a combined cycle gas-fired power plant emits some 400-599 g/kWh,[94] an oil-fired power plant 893 g/kWh,[94] a coal-fired power plant 915-994 g/kWh[95] or with carbon capture and storage some 200 g/kWh, and a geothermal high-temp. power plant 91-122 g/kWh.[94] The life cycle emission intensity of hydro, wind and nuclear power are lower than solar’s as of 2011 as published by the IPCC, and discussed in the article Life-cycle greenhouse-gas emissions of energy sources. Similar to all energy sources were their total life cycle emissions primarily lay in the construction and transportation phase, the switch to low carbon power in the manufacturing and transportation of solar devices would further reduce carbon emissions. BP Solar owns two factories built by Solarex (one in Maryland, the other in Virginia) in which all of the energy used to manufacture solar panels is produced by solar panels. A 1-kilowatt system eliminates the burning of approximately 170 pounds of coal, 300 pounds of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere, and saves up to 105 gallons of water consumption monthly.[96]

Cadmium

One issue that has often raised concerns is the use of cadmium in cadmium telluride solar cells (CdTe is only used in a few types of PV panels). Cadmium in its metallic form is a toxic substance that has the tendency to accumulate in ecological food chains. The amount of cadmium used in thin-film PV modules is relatively small (5-10 g/m²) and with proper emission control techniques in place the cadmium emissions from module production can be almost zero. Current PV technologies lead to cadmium emissions of 0.3-0.9 microgram/kWh over the whole life-cycle.[71] Most of these emissions actually arise through the use of coal power for the manufacturing of the modules, and coal and lignite combustion leads to much higher emissions of cadmium. Life-cycle cadmium emissions from coal is 3.1 microgram/kWh, lignite 6.2, and natural gas 0.2 microgram/kWh.

Note that if electricity produced by photovoltaic panels were used to manufacture the modules instead of electricity from burning coal, cadmium emissions from coal power usage in the manufacturing process could be entirely eliminated.[97]

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