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 Farm?!!

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

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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 emissions.

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 seriously."

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 markets.

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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