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too much government "help" hurt solar heat
27 mar 2001
solar energy is once again on people's minds. there are shortages
of electricity, and natural gas prices have more than tripled. 

today's articles about solar and alternative energies mention photovoltaic
panels and wind generators; rarely solar heating. twenty years ago,
we "helped" solar heating so much it earned a bad name.

this is unfortunate. many houses and water heaters across the west
use electricity or expensive propane. they should switch to solar
heating. in one year a solar water heating panel can save 65 kwh or
three gallons of propane for each square foot of collector.

solar water heaters pay for themselves; let's use them.

new mexico is blessed by clear skies, a strong sun, hot summer and
cold winters. it is no wonder that a generation ago our state was
the site of so many experiments in using the sun. 

many of the experiments were successful, yet much remains to be done
in heating and cooling houses and heating water. we haven't really
cashed in on the work of the past decades.

it is very frustrating, since little more remains to be done than some
tinkering with mechanics and architecture. given all the progress to date,
what is left is hardly more than unkinking a hose or replugging a loose 
extension cord. 

the last time, some 20 odd years ago, high prices of fossil fuels brought
interest in the sun, a series of misunderstandings about energy and economics
led to a program of misguided subsidies. after the subsidies followed
their course, the public was left with great disgust for solar energy.

this time around let's forget the subsidies.

solar heating always fits in certain niche markets, which wax and wane;
solar energy is never an answer to all. the use of subsidies mutates
the condition to an unhealthy epidemic. the epidemic finally burns out
after the public has grown sick of cheating itself.

few businesses can survive the aftermath. even healthy niche markets
are blighted. no one wants to hear the word solar heating.

this time we know better what works. we have better materials; better
tools to make things and veterans of the last epidemic that may be able
to prevent a reoccurence of foolishness. 

             steve baer

             from the albuquerque journal, january 12, 2001 




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