11. Alternative Energy - Solar Energy


by Larisa Redins
12/26/06 Organic Producer

With all of the controversy surrounding the price of fuel and other
electricity forms in recent times, solar energy is definitely increasing
in popularity. However, just what is solar energy? Solar energy
basically converts light from the sun into useable electricity.  The
amount of available light energy from the sun is of course dependent
upon the current conditions - namely how many clouds there are in the
sky and at what angle the sun is located in the sky. It is also
important to keep in mind that the atmosphere reflects just about 6% of
the sun's light and also absorbs about 16% of the sun's radiation. With
that said though, there still is an overwhelming amount of energy to be
utilized by consumers.

Why Should Consumers Use Solar Energy?
Solar energy is a renewable resource - individuals do not need to worry
about the light from the sun being depleted anytime soon as in the case
of fuel for instance. Solar energy is also pollution-free and does not
require large resource intensive power stations to operate. Furthermore,
the equipment used to capture the light energy from the sun requires
little maintenance once all of the equipment is set up - not to mention
that this form of energy is just about free once the costs from
installing the solar equipment has been recouped.

"Solar energy is so promising because it is unlimited and absolutely
clean," concurs David Barclay, the Executive Director of the Northeast
Sustainable Energy Association (NESEA). "The price has dropped
dramatically in the past couple of decades and the more it is used, the
more economical it will become."

Solar energy is also extremely accessible to average individuals. A
person can empower themselves and generate solar energy on their own
without needing to rely on an external power source. This situation is
especially beneficial in more remote areas.
"Producers of solar energy have many options: they can produce
electricity using photovoltaic panels, or they can capture solar thermal
energy and use it to heat water or air," explains Alex Doukas, a
Community Power Education Assistant with the Ontario Sustainable Energy
Association (OSEA).

How Can Consumers Capture This Light Energy?
One of the ways that consumers can capture solar energy is through the
use of solar panels (or photovoltaic cells as they are more formally
known). Photovoltaic cells are comprised of various semiconductors. When
light - which is composed of photons - hits a semiconductor, this light
then transfers its energy to that particular conductor. In order to make
this system more efficient, often mirrors and other devices are utilized
so that the light energy can be concentrated on a small area of
photovoltaic cells. These "concentrators' also make this solar energy
option more affordable as the photovoltaic cells are often the most
expensive component in this set-up.

Another method of solar power is similar to the common conventional way
of generating electricity - except that this type of electricity does
not involve the burning of other materials to generate the electricity.
This system of generating electricity involves using reflective material
or mirrors to concentrate the sun's light energy on a reservoir of
fluid. When the fluid boils, the resulting steam that is formed powers a
turbine - which in turn generates electricity.

Consumers and producers alike can utilize the sun's energy for
conventional energy purposes. Once again, the sun's light is
concentrated using reflective material such as mirrors. These surfaces
in turn concentrate the light on a 'converter', a device that consists
of a heat engine and a generator. In most cases, this engine that is
used is one that is called a Stirling engine - mainly because this
engine is remarkably quiet. In these types of engines, there is gas in a
small compartment - when this gas is heated, the gas, in turn, powers a
generator ... and voila! Energy is created.

What about Passive Solar Energy?  
Passive solar energy in itself is an excellent way to cut costs on
energy bills.  Passive solar energy, itself, occurs when a particular
house or other building is built in such a manner so that it avoids
direct summer sunlight and captures low-angle winter sun.  Some ways to
help accomplish this goal is through strategic tree placement, using
window overhangs, and utilizing the building mass to absorb the sun's
heat when the temperature is cooler.  

"For those considering building a home, passive solar can offer a huge
energy savings in and of itself, if combined with other green whole
systems thinking design strategies," asserts Barclay.  "Some estimates
indicate that energy consumption can be reduced by as much as 30% solely
through properly designed passive solar strategies".

Worried that Solar Energy Technology is Unsightly?
Well, people need not be worried about this problem as the aesthetics of
these solar systems have increased substantially in recent years.  In
fact, solar energy technology is looking better than ever as there are
now innovations that include solar panels that can be embedded in
skylights or look like everyday shingles.

The Future of Solar Energy
The future of solar energy is looking more favorable than ever. As
consumers continue to recognize solar energy as a viable renewable clean
energy option, more people will utilize this technology.  This increased
usage will in turn result in lower solar equipment costs as the
associated technologies continue to improve.

"Solar energy's future is very bright. Today, the equivalent of 40
million households are already using solar hot water systems across the
globe," Doukas told Organic Producer.   It is already a driving force
behind the transition to a sustainable energy economy, and is now the
fastest growing energy technology in the world, with solar panels now
covering more than 400 000 rooftops worldwide".


For some local resources about what is available in Michigan you can
check out these groups.

Michigan Wind Working group web site meets quarterly to discuss how to
bring wind power to MI.  (part of Dep of Labor and economic growth).

12. Hey Michigan Farm Business Owners-Ever Consider Wind Power on Your

If you think your business (including farm business) can benefit from
wind power you can apply for the Michigan Anemometer Loan Program to
have an anemometer installed at your business to check for appropriate
conditions to use wind energy. You can apply for the grant at this web
site: (has additional info for Michigan
and wind energy also).  If awarded the grant they will install the
anemometer at your site, collect and analyze the data and give you an
economic evaluation if wind energy can work for you. This grant is
housed in the Dept of Ag Economics by Dr. Steve Harsh. If you choose to
have a wind generator at your business you can get a federal grant
(#9006) to offset 25% of the cost. What is Section 9006?
Section 9006 is the Renewable Energy Systems and Energy Efficiency
Improvements Program, created as part of the Energy Title in the 2002
Farm Bill. In 2006, it will provide grants and loan guarantees to
farmers, ranchers and rural small businesses. Direct loans are
authorized by legislation but have not yet been implemented. For more
info go to this web site: 

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

13. Sustainable Farm Groups Outline Farm Bill Agenda

Jan 22: A broad alliance of family farm, rural, conservation,
sustainable and organic agriculture, anti-hunger, nutrition,
faith-based, public health and other groups say the next farm bill
should advance a new generation of farm and food policies designed to
address some of the nation's most pressing social, economic,
environmental and public health challenges. The group known as the Farm
and Food Policy Project (FFPP) detailed their recommendations in a
report entitled, Seeking Balance in U.S. Farm and Food Policy. The
groups indicated, "The renewal of the Farm Bill in 2007 creates a rare
opportunity to take significant steps towards reversing these trends.
More than $300 billion in taxpayer dollars is at stake over the next
five years. These resources must be managed more responsibly and used to
create greater balance in our public policies and ultimately in our farm
and food system."

The report outlines innovations which the groups says would make real
progress toward creating opportunities for young and beginning farmers,
expanding new agricultural markets and value-added enterprises, helping
more farmers move to organic production to meet increasing demand,
reducing hunger and soaring rates of obesity; encouraging local food
production and access to healthy food choices, promoting
entrepreneurship and economic development in rural communities;
providing incentives for more environmentally friendly farming systems;
fostering cooperative conservation partnerships; and providing increased
support for socially disadvantaged farmers and farmworkers.

FFPP indicates the report has been endorsed by more than 350
organizations across the country. Some of the lead organizations
involved in the effort include: American Farmland Trust; Community Food
Security Coalition; Environmental Defense; Farm and Food Policy
Diversity Initiative; Northeast Midwest Institute; Sustainable
Agriculture Coalition

14. Air-freighted food may lose organic label

Mark Oliver and agencies
Friday January 26, 2007
Guardian Unlimited <>  


A basket of organic products.

Food imported to the UK by air may be denied the lucrative "organic"
label under proposals being put forward today by the Soil Association.

The UK's main organic certification body is concerned about the "food
miles" involved in importing goods by air, which, environmentalists
argue, contribute to global warming.

Supermarkets typically charge more for food labelled organic and many
customers are increasingly favouring goods which have not been treated
with pesticides and other chemicals.

At its annual conference in Cardiff today, the Soil Association launched
a one-year consultation on a proposal to ban the air-freighting of
organic food, in the hope of cutting the associated carbon dioxide

The association's director, Patrick Holden, told the BBC Radio 4 Today
programme: "There is growing demand to reduce the carbon footprint of
food distribution and we in the Soil Association take that very

He said the body's standards board would consider different labelling
options, as well as carbon-offsetting plans as a way of managing the
environmental impact of air-freighted food.

However, he said, "This initiative wouldn't have been taken if there
wasn't a pretty strong chance that the standards board would eventually
decide on a total ban."

In the past, most food labelled organic in UK shops was more likely to
have been sourced relatively locally, typically from smaller farms.
However, with the boom in popularity of organic food, bigger firms have
become involved and the use of air transportation has grown, allowing
some firms to sell food that is out of season locally.

Some commentators have argued that the changing nature of the supply of
"organic" food, and the growing economies of scale, have effectively
changed the term's meaning.

However, others argue that the energy used to produce food is also an
important factor. They say, for example, that it could be better to
import food produced efficiently in New Zealand, despite the food miles.

Mr Holden said one of the key issues during the consultation period
would be the viability of fair-trade schemes that benefit farmers in the
developing world by giving them direct access to developed world

However, he added: "Overall, the carbon footprint of air-freighting is
greater to such a large degree than land transport that we think there
is a pretty strong case for looking at a ban very seriously."


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