Solar Success Stories: Using the Sun's Energy to Rebuild the Economy While Protecting the Planet
Creative entrepreneurs, futurists, community members and businesses have found innovative ways to utilize the sun’s energy that could lead to huge increases in access to clean and green electricity.
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As we saw during the first #PutSolarOnIt day of action on June 21, public support for solar power and renewable energy is growing. At the same time, solar costs have dropped and production has skyrocketed.
Why are people getting so excited about the growth of solar? It has a lot to do with its potential. The fact is that enough raw energy from the sun reaches the Earth in just one hour to equal all of the energy used by the entire world in a full year. There’s just one problem: we need to radically scale up our capacity to generate electricity from solar energy so that we can fully harness this power.
Of course, this prospect has the dirty fossil fuel industry very, very concerned and their friends in government doing everything they can to make sure it doesn’t happen. The good news is that people around the world aren’t waiting for political leaders to take the next step towards a sustainable future powered by clean energy. And it’s time to spread the word. We’ve compiled the list below highlighting just some of the creative entrepreneurs, futurists, community members and businesses that have found innovative ways to utilize the sun’s energy that could lead to huge increases in access to clean and green electricity.
And you know what comes with that? Jobs. A stronger economy. Fewer threats to our health. Cleaner air. In short, a brighter future with more in the way of opportunities and less in the way of climate change.
That’s something we can all get behind.
Coal isn’t just a problem for our atmosphere. It’s a problem for our land too. After a coal mine closes, huge swaths of land are left exposed. Welbeck Colliery shut down in 2010 after its resources were tapped out. Developers proposed an innovative solution: Why not replace coal mines with solar farms?
Construction will begin in 2014 to convert up to four former collieries in Nottinghamshire and South Yorkshire into solar farms capable of producing up to a combined 30 Megawatts.
India also has its share of land issues—particularly a lack of land where it can cheaply and effectively install large-scale solar farms. The solution? Take to the water!
India has a vast network of canals, so the country has begun fitting 1,000 miles of these waterways with solar panels. The panels will provide up to 2.2 Gigawatts of clean, renewable electricity even in remote regions, bringing electricity to hundreds of thousands. The panels don’t encroach on residents’ land (human or animal) and also cool the water in the canals, preventing evaporation and allowing more water to reach homes and farms.
The U.S. is also debating a concept pairing existing infrastructure with solar potential. Solar Roadways’ crowdfunding campaign made engines rev across America with plenty of people asking, “What if we replaced the pavement on our roads with super-strong solar panels?” Well, we’d eliminate potholes, increase safety, and charge electric vehicles to boot.
There’s still many questions to answer and challenges to solve, but this idea goes to show that creative ways to #PutSolarOnIt are truly a renewable resource.
Australia’s government may have reversed the carbon tax, but its climate-savvy citizens won’t drop the ball. In the state of South Australia, a whopping 25 percent of citizens have solar panels on their homes. In New South Wales, leaders are pushing ahead with an ambitious target of generating 33 percent of the state’s electricity by 2020 and introducing efficiency efforts aimed at cutting energy waste.
Not to be outshone, America’s largest solar plant recently opened in the sunny Arizona desert. Solana, as the plant is called, is also the country’s first thermal energy storage system. That means even hours after the sun sets, this plant will still be generating electricity, providing power during peak hours for up to 70,000 homes. Shine on!
What’s better than solar power? How about providing free solar power to people who need it most?
That’s exactly what Peru’s doing. The South American nation has already kicked off its National Photovoltaic Household Electrification Program, which, in its first phase, will provide solar systems to 500,000 extremely poor households in areas that don’t currently have grid access. By the end of 2016, about 95 percent of Peruvians will have access to electricity, a jump of 29 percent in just two years.
In 2007, Patrick Ngowi had a bright idea: why not solve the power demand issues in his native Tanzania with solar energy?
With a little luck and a lot of hard work, his business took off. But the entrepreneur and Climate Reality leader doesn’t bask in the glow—he’s giving back by through his Light for Life Foundation, an nonprofit that powers rural areas with free, portable solar kits. With a simple, self-installed kit, children, women, and schools in even the most remote rural areas gain access to light and the benefit of increased safety, added study time, extended business hours, and much more.
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A stretch of coastline in the Philippine capital, Manila has received backlash from environmentalists. The heavily polluted Manila Bay area, which had been slated for cleanup, has become the site of a controversial 500-meter (1,600-foot) stretch of white sand beach.
Sand Makeup Crucial for Ecosystems<p>While UNEP/GRID-Geneva generally supports finding <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/not-enough-sand-for-construction-industry-despite-abundance/a-49342942" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">alternative sources of sand</a> so as not to disrupt ecosystems in rivers and oceans when extracting them, Vander Velpen stressed it was vital to use sand which closely matches the makeup of the native sand to protect beach fauna.</p><p>"If you change the core characteristics of the native sand, the original sand, you need to do an environmental impact assessment (EIA) to find out how it's going to impact the ecosystem and nearby ecosystems," he told DW.</p><p>But according to Torres, such an assessment was not done in Manila.</p>
Beautification Stunt Instead of Proper Cleanup?<p>Manila Bay's waters are heavily polluted by oil and trash from nearby residential areas and ports. A huge "No swimming" sign warns visitors to stay away from the ocean.</p><p>Philippines' <a href="https://denr.gov.ph/index.php/priority-programs/manila-bay-clean-up/25-priority-programs/1825-frequently-ask-questions-faqs-on-the-dolomite-and-the-beach-nourishment-project" target="_blank">Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)</a> has denied dolomite sand poses any risk to human health and the ecosystem.</p><p>However, scientists of the University of the Philippines have come forward disputing the DENR's claims. A <a href="https://biology.science.upd.edu.ph/index.php/ib-statement-regarding-dolomite-in-manila-bay/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">statement by the Institute of Biology</a> said that using crushed dolomite did not address any of the rehabilitation phases and instead was "even more detrimental to the existing biodiversity as well as the communities in the area," pointing to the case of water birds. "The dumping of dolomite in Manila Bay has effectively covered part of the intertidal area used by the birds thereby reducing their habitat."</p><p>At peak migration season, Manila Bay is home to 90 aquatic bird species, including species of international conservation concern that are facing a very high extinction risk in the wild. </p><p>Authorities should focus on protecting and conserving biodiversity, the Institute of Biology added. "Rehabilitating mangroves is an example of a nature-based solution that is cheaper and more cost-effective than the dolomite dumping project," the scientists said.</p><p>Moreover, <a href="http://www.msi.upd.edu.ph/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the Marine Science Institute</a> has warned that prolonged inhalation of finer dust particles of dolomite could "cause chronic health effects," leading to discomfort in the chest, shortness of breath and coughing.</p><p>They also warned dolomite sand grains would erode during storms and be carried out to sea, essentially being washed away.</p>
Rehabilitation vs. Reclamation<p>Environmentalists say covering up the beach doesn't address the real issues of the bay. Torres and others believe the best way to clean up Manila Bay is not to add anything, but rather remove trash and pollution.</p><p>"There have been studies saying much of the waste comes from already collected waste — so these are open dump sites along the coast that get washed up because of the rain," Torres said.</p><p>She criticized the authorities for continuing to push reclamation projects she says are at odds with each other. These projects will affect large areas of mangrove forests, she said, and experts warn that this, in turn, exacerbates coastal erosion.</p><p>"If you've removed the areas that helped trap the sand, like mangrove forests, then the likelihood increases that you will have to nourish a beach. Same as building right up to the waterfront," said Vander Velpen of UNEP/GRID-Geneva.</p>
Plenty of Sand in the Sea?<p>The question of Manila's contentious white beach echoes larger questions about sand mining worldwide. <a href="https://unepgrid.ch/storage/app/media/documents/Sand_and_sustainability_UNEP_2019.pdf" target="_blank">Global sand consumption has tripled</a> over the past two decades, UNEP/GRID-Geneva has found. A huge chunk of it is now taken up by construction.</p><p>"Many operate on the assumption that natural sand is endless in its supply," said Vander Velpen.</p><p>Sand scarcity is a concern shared by Stefan Schimmels of <a href="https://www.fzk.uni-hannover.de/fzk_start.html?&L=1" target="_blank">Forschungszentrum Küste</a> who's done extensive research on shore nourishment to stop coastal erosion. And as climate change and rising sea levels are threatening coasts, demand for sand will grow even more.</p><p>A large study, the <a href="http://www.stencil-project.de/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/STENCIL_SWOT_Analyse_191026.pdf" target="_blank">Strategies and Tools for Environment-Friendly Shore Nourishments as Climate Change Impact Low-Regret Measures (STENCIL project)</a>, focused on the German island of Sylt, a popular vacation spot.</p><p>About 1 million cubic meter of sand per year is used to maintain the coastal area of Sylt, STENCIL project head Schimmels said. That's about 100 million 10-liter buckets of sand.</p><p>When sand was extracted off the coast of Sylt, underwater craters were formed. "You can still detect these craters even decades later," Schimmels told DW.</p><p>"Also when you add a couple of meters sand onto the beach — you essentially bury all things that do creep and fly," he said. "How quickly will they recover?" Schimmels said more research was needed as there was still too little known about long-term effects on the environment. </p>
Criticism Piling Up<p>As for Manila's artificial white sand, it looks like some might have already been blown away by a recent storm. DENR claims it wasn't washed away, but said that grayish sand, stones and other material had simply piled up over the dolomite sand. People in Manila have tweeted photos showing how the storm has ravaged the beach. </p>
<div id="adc0b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="98f9390db6bb81cb421aaf0bb9d9a6fb"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1318816633280851969" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Exactly one month after giving excited netizen a glimpse of Manila Bay white sands, look what happened now after ju… https://t.co/X0Z9i0bPB0</div> — M*A*S*H (@M*A*S*H)<a href="https://twitter.com/Magtira_Matibay/statuses/1318816633280851969">1603265362.0</a></blockquote></div><p>Authorities have been called tone-deaf for spending around 389 million pesos ($8 million) on a beach nourishment project in the middle of a raging pandemic.</p><p>An image of cake iced with the words "It really hurts - that's [worth] 389 million pesos?" has since gone viral.</p>
<div class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4387aad52ea316e4db7330052318ca2f"><div class="fb-post" data-href="https://www.facebook.com/theweekendpatisserie/posts/144564207350008"></div></div><p>"It's just a waste of precious resources," Torres said. </p><p>The environmental activist now also worries that she might be labeled a terrorist for speaking out under the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/philippine-anti-terrorism-law-triggers-fear-of-massive-rights-abuses/a-53732140" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Philippines' controversial new anti-terrorism law</a>. She says she could be arrested for inciting fear when talking about environmental dangers.</p>
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