Clean Energy Goes Mainstream with Earth Day

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Earth Day, Reno, 2011

All of us are beneficiaries of the paradigm shifts of credit cards and ATM’s; desktop computing and the Internet. For each of these widespread social shifts there were risk-taking start-up companies and “early adopter” consumers that helped lead social and economic change. In the case of today’s clean energy and energy conservation movement, we’ve come a long way from tree hugging by unshaven men (and women), saving the whales (and otters), Greenpeace, and recycling in a few tangentially interested California neighborhoods. Going green has become more than an idealistic cause by the liberal left, to more broadly being recognized as an economic imperative.

The economic malaise of the last few years is widespread, but most reports say it has hit Nevada worse. The causes are well known — an over-dependency on tourism and home construction, coupled with an under-funded, substandard public education system. Recent business forums in northern Nevada sponsored by the Reno Gazette Journal, EDAWN, and the Reno-Sparks Chamber all underscore the importance of a more diversified economy. These same forums have identified renewable energy and energy conservation as critical to helping Nevada diversify and grow its economy. The path to critical mass, like ATMs and the Internet have achieved, depends on broad community awareness and support, hence the importance of Earth Day.

Jo Simpson is the President of Nevada Econet, the organizer and principal sponsor of Earth Day Reno, where 7,500 were estimated to attend on May 1. She believes the role of Earth Day, “… focuses on sustainable living practices that help preserve and enhance our natural environment for future generations.” Some goals she cites are to “reduce waste overall, maximize compostable waste, use your own shopping bags and encourage governments to require recycling of additional categories of plastics.”  Jo points out, “the event offers … musical entertainment, and a variety of children’s activities.”  Sociologically, involvement of children is critical to widespread awareness and support needed among parents and the next generation. It’s why we see wind turbines from companies like Windspire erected at public schools.

As you walked among the venues at Earth Day, you were struck by the diversity of large and small green energy providers, including the local utility NV Energy and Waste Management. There were literally dozens of renewable energy vendors, these days mostly solar. Reid Hamilton from Hamilton Solar had this to say about the benefits of retrofitting your home or office for solar power: “Solar is simple, it increases the value of your property, saves you money, and helps the environment.”

Perhaps to the surprise of some, particularly in light of the events at Fukushima, the U.S. Nuclear Energy Foundation was also represented at Earth Day. Director Gary Duarte reported, “there are a number of governments and companies beginning to develop ‘Clean Energy Parks’ that include solar, wind, biofuels AND nuclear.” The nearest such park is being developed in Fresno.

With another Earth Day past, as citizens, what did we learn going forward to facilitate the mainstreaming of clean energy? First, Earth Day gave us permission — and knowledge — of how to incorporate the principles of energy conservation into the efficiency of our homes and our daily lives. On the clean energy generation side of the equation, we learned about recent price decreases in solar PV panel pricing and advances in panel efficiency. This translates into a better return on investment, making solar installations far more attractive than just a couple of years ago. If there is a single message, it is that we are reaching a tipping point where energy usage — how much and what type — is within our individual ability to influence. And no longer just in the hands of companies, utilities, and politicians.

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