What do Solar Energy and the Ford Model T have in common?

By Derek Girling,
HelioPower Solar Energy Consultant

In the early 20th century, America’s largely rural population was transfixed by an exciting new technology – the automobile. For most of mankind’s history, people either walked or rode horses, carts or wagons to get from point A to B. The invention of trains and streetcars enabled long distance travel and people could now move about easily within growing urban areas. But travelling from your family farm in Greenville to the market in Mudville was still either a hoof or heels proposition.

Henry Ford’s invention of assembly line production of the venerable Model Model-TT brought personal transportation to the masses and expanded mankind’s footprint geometrically across the globe. The implications of this transportation revolution a century ago are dramatically evident today.

How does this relate to solar energy?

Until now, and for the vast majority of people, electrical energy generation has been in someone else’s hands – the local utility. Weekend engineers and survivalists have pieced together their own homegrown solar arrays for over a decade, but recently, and for the first time in history, you can easily and economically generate much of your home’s energy. Yes, most businesses and homes are still dependent on their utility for energy from the grid when the sun’s not shining, but even cars are confined to roads and dependant on gas stations. Harnessing solar energy has brought man an unprecedented level of energy independence, especially in rural areas. Water pumps, lighting and refrigeration have been freed from the shackles of a mass produced energy system.

Those early transportation pioneers overcame their unfamiliarity with this new technology. The first people to buy Ford’s cars didn’t have a father or uncle they could turn to with experience buying cars. They surely didn’t think of cars as being almost disposable either! Within a short time, and no doubt driven by necessity, these new drivers were experts on repairing flat tires and plugging leaky radiators. New industries servicing the auto industry sprang up overnight. America’s and the world’s industrialized economies were on the move.

HelioPower solar installation

HelioPower solar installation

Today’s solar pioneers are also addressing their unfamiliarity with this new technology. They diligently educate themselves online about mono vs. polycrystalline efficiencies, optimum tilts and azimuths, and minimizing shading issues while pensively calculating when to jump in and commit to having their own solar power system installed. Fortunately, solar energy systems have virtually no moving parts and are relatively maintenance-free. New service and manufacturing industries including solar financing (not unlike GMAC!), system maintenance and low-energy use fixtures are emerging. Commercial and residential solar system installations have grown from thousands to hundreds of thousands and soon millions within just the last decade.

There is, however, a crucial difference between the personal transportation revolution and the solar energy revolution that cannot be overstated. Although the mass production of the automobile has freed mankind in many respects, automobiles are directly responsible for significant worldwide environmental destruction. Large swaths of the planet have been paved for roads and parking lots. Fuel sources and refineries pollute our lands and waterways. Emissions from hundreds of millions of internal combustion engines choke our skies. Renewable energy sources like solar offer the only hope of breaking carbon-based fuel’s grip on our planet’s health. Today’s solar pioneers are the first responders in the healing of the planet!

This solar revolution promises, at the very least, to slow the rate of global environmental degradation and may be the killer app that turns the tide on the general adoption of renewable energy sources and generation technologies. Ironically, these solar energy arrays will be fueling our plug-in electric vehicles – the equivalent of a Model T and a gas pump on your homestead. A century from now, we may look back on today’s rooftop arrays and be reminded of those pioneering farmers, their trucks laden with the fruits of their labors, smiling as they thank Henry Ford for saving their feet from that long walk to Mudville!

Contact Derek Girling at [email protected]

1 Comment

  1. Harold Brewster on April 13, 2010 at 9:50 am

    Solar Energy is one of the best ways to get clean energy. Today the efficieny of solar power is a bit low but with advances in technology, solar cells will become more and more efficient in harnessing the energy of the sun.