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JR Ewing evolves from fossil fool to solar star

July 16th, 2010 · 4 Comments

This guest post comes from down-under.  I had been thinking of writing re JR Ewing’s conversion from stored solar power (e.g., fossil fuels) to renewable solar power.  Unenergy’s post does a great job. And, well, we must recognize that Sunenergy’s ads are great and merit going viral.

I’d put my money on solar energy. What a source of power!
I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.
I wish I had more years left.

Thomas Alva Edison
February 11, 1847 - October 18, 1931 (aged 84)

That second part, the bolded comment got me thinking that Edison, recognizing the potential of the sun to meet our energy needs and knowing that fossil fuels were a finite resource, towards the end of his life wanted very much to be around to see this remarkable resource harnessed and developed into something sustainable.

The world’s economic growth in the past 150 years has been built on our knowledge of how to extract and harness yesterday’s stored sunshine in the form of fossil fuels. The oil barons of the second half of the 1800s, making their fortunes by extracting these resources, initially for lighting people’s homes. Extending daylight for many people both allowing them to live better lives, and for industry and commercial enterprises to operate longer.

The largest fortune the world has ever seen was created by selling refined lamp oil under the manufactured name “kerosene” and John D Rockefeller became the world’s richest man by lighting the oil lamps of the world.

but he was also the biggest philanthropist America has ever seen.
Rockefeller - “Let the poor man have his cheap light”

He didn’t want to kill people. He had standards.

Standard Oil = SO (Esso) now known as…. Exxon.

Chasing the Sun, Solar Adventures Around the World, Neville Williams

Rockefeller’s stated goal to bring about an affordable improvement in people’s every day lives, ought to be recognized as commendable, irrespective of business practices which accompanied this.
His generosity which helped bring about progress through science and education using the fortune he had made, additionally so.

Rockefeller spent the last 40 years of his life in retirement. His fortune was mainly used to create the modern systematic approach of targeted philanthropy with foundations that had a major effect on medicine, education, and scientific research. - Source

From the 1880s on Thomas Edison, Samuel Insull and George Westinghouse were instrumental in building on that premise, of bringing light through electricity into people’s homes in a cost effective way.

Thomas Edison - “We will make electricity so cheap that only the rich will burn candles.”
- Source

Edison originated the concept and implementation of electric-power generation and distribution to homes, businesses, and factories – a crucial development in the modern industrialized world.
- Source

It was on September 4, 1882, that Edison switched on his Pearl Street generating station’s electrical power distribution system
- Source

Electricity, unlike kerosene and other oils which were previously burned for lighting, was generated outside the home, thus displacing where combustion was occurring, meaning less pollution and cleaner air in people’s homes.
However, it also challenged the business model of the oil industry.

Electricity would have put Rockefeller and Standard Oil out of business, since lighting was their main business too, but then the automobile came along and saved the oil companies.

Chasing the Sun, Solar Adventures Around the World, Neville Williams

As one business model for the oil barons was displaced, another sprang up. And although initially the generation of power was through the use of oil based products, these quickly became expensive as demand shifted elsewhere and another way of generating power cost effectively was needed. The answer at that time lay in coal, a plentiful resource, yet not as versatile as a liquid fuel, where a process was developed to generate electricity by yet another American based firm, GE.

As Insull integrated the demands of disparate customers and networked his expanding empire with high voltage transmission lines, he convinced General Electric to build new generating technologies that would replace the size limited, gasoline powered, piston driven engines. In October 1903, General Electric and Chicago Edison opened the Fisk Street Turbine Station, which was powered from water boiled by burning coal and provided a then remarkable 5MW of electricity.

From Enron to Edison, Richard Munson

America played critical roles in starting the industrial revolution which relied on fossil fuel for power generation. Through development of educational institutions which operated at the cutting edge of technology, new design engineering, manufacturing and construction methods, and of course utilizing the power of the US government through regulation to overcome political barricades to further development, to ensure that electricity could reach as many people as possible.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology launched the first program to train electrical engineers in 1890
Charles Stone and Edwin Webster, two years after graduating from MIT, started a business to design and build power plants for utilities unwilling to assume the construction headaches.
President Woodrow Wilson during WWI created a War Industries Board that ordered private utilities to interconnect with each other in order to use electricity more efficiently.

From Enron to Edison, Richard Munson

Of course fossil fuels are a depletable resource and we are right now living through a time when there is real evidence that this dependency is unsustainable - why else destroy magnificent mountain ranges, create enormous amounts of toxic waste with tar sands and risk entire coast lines with deep water drilling? Competition with emerging markets for resources from India and China with 4 - 5 times the US population each, the rapid depletion of easy and cheap to extract oil as well as the environmental consequences of releasing millions of years of stored carbon into the atmosphere, makes one wonder what we should be doing to prepare for these multiple approaching crisis. Crisis which mean the end of cheap energy.

Arthur says “For the last few centuries since the industrial revolution, we’ve been living on our capital, on the energy stored up in coal and oil from sunlight hundreds of millions of years ago. We’ve been eating up these reserves at a colossal rate. In the near future, only a few decades, the oil and gas and coal will all be gone. That means we’ll have to go back to the original source, the sun.”

Chasing the Sun, Solar Adventures Around the World, Neville Williams

From July 13-15, for the past 3 days there has been a major exhibition and conference in San Francisco’s Moscone Center called Intersolar North America.

Unlike the rapid development and adoption of kerosene and then electricity for lighting which drove the coal and oil industries expansion, photovoltaics have taken a little more time to gain a major foothold in energy markets. Despite being developed to a commercial product in 1954 by Bell Labs, again with America leading the way with some level of government support, because it had the potential to disrupt the existing energy (fossil fuel) industry business model, solar power has struggled to make the sort of rapid headway which both oil and coal enjoyed.

One of the non-profit groups at Intersolar who have adopted the purpose of both Edison and Rockefeller and many of the early American energy entrepreneurs, of bringing light to the world’s poor, is an organization called Solar Electric Light Fund or SELF.
Earlier this year, as you can tell from some of the blockquotes above, I read a book called Chasing the Sun by Neville Williams, the founder of SELF.

What I really like about the model which SELF operate under is the mutual obligation side of providing a solar system. Where, rather than simply taking aid, the people in developing areas which have no electrical grid access, are able to get a solar lighting system on a micro-credit finance arrangement.

the basic modus operandi of our approach was to get people to pay for the systems. We didn’t believe in giving them away.

The need, demand from people who have no access to modern forms of energy, including electricity, is enormous. And as per the current directors comments in the video below, it costs $20,000 per mile to install transmission lines, which is far too expensive for rural electrification in many places. But without access to modern forms of energy, many of these people are unable to improve their lives.

subsistence levels of electricity for the two billion people of the world who have no electricity

I was able to enter this world, their world, the world in which half of humanity lives. It is a world of small farms, of simple, small houses with thatch or tile roofs; and of families usually too large to fit in the usual four rooms. Often these rooms have no furniture and people sleep on floor mats.

There are 700 million of them in India, 800 million in China, maybe 400 million in Africa, at least 200 million in Latin America, and another 300 million in the Middle East, Southeast, Western Asia, Eastern Europe and Russia…
And half the four billion have no electricity

Chasing the Sun, Solar Adventures Around the World, Neville Williams

Interview with Robert Frehling, Exec. Dir. Solar Electric Light Fund at Intersolar

Solar Electric Light Fund, by developing a model which relies on repayment for these energy systems, has been able to establish many sustainable business enterprises. Both empowering those who receive the solar systems for lighting, water pumping, hospitals and schools, as well as unleashing the entrepreneurial spirit in those who are involved in the sales, installation and maintenance of these solar systems. Their positive influence has touched the lives of people in many areas.
Benin, Burundi, Haiti, Lesotho, Rwanda, South Africa, Bhutan, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Navajo Nation, Nepal, Nigeria, New Orleans, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Uganda, Vietnam, Zimbabwe.

The reward in terms of eternal appreciation can be found throughout the story of SELF.

Repayment aided through savings on energy bills.

eagerly showed me his sheaf of electrical bills, noting how they had decreased as he relied on the solar lights in lieu of grid power. What he saved on his utility bills, he used to pay back the bank loans.

Chasing the Sun, Solar Adventures Around the World, Neville Williams

People naming their children after solar power.

??
In honor of our good fortune, I decided to name my child Guang Dian. Guang Dian means photovoltaics in Chinese.
Chasing the Sun, Solar Adventures Around the World, Neville Williams

And of course a challenge which we all should be asking ourselves?

If the poorer people of the world can have a “solar solution”, why can’t people in North America?

Chasing the Sun, Solar Adventures Around the World, Neville Williams

So yesterday it was great to see Larry Hagman, JR Ewing of Dallas fame, showing how he has taken up the challenge to become involved not just with SELF, but also living with solar power in his own home. An oil man who has seen the light and enormous potential for solar power to transform people’s lives and fortunes is something we need to see more of.

Transcript and interview at Intersolar with Larry Hagman

So People know you from a lot of television shows, but most of all they know you as oil baron, JR Ewing, so what is your personal link to solar energy?

Well, I have probably the largest solar array for any residential home in America right now, perhaps the world. It’s quite large and I installed it years ago when a tree fell on a power line in Ohio, and shorted out most of the Eastern Coast and part of Canada.
It was like that for four days. It was all dark.
If it had gone on longer, say 10 days or something, a lot of people would have died.
So I thought well, if the infrastructure was so delicate that a tree falling on a power line in Ohio would short circuit the whole or half the United States, I better do something about my little farm.
And so I investigated solar power and wind power and so forth, and decided that solar power would be my way of doing things. Because wind power has a lot of moving parts and a lot of maintenance on it, but once you put in solar power, it just sits there for maybe thirty or forty years providing electricity so that’s the direction I went in, and I’m very glad I did.

To me that sounds like the American way, so you’re producing your own energy…

Well if you wait for the government to get around to making concessions, giving you incentives, you’ll never do anything, so I decided to do it myself. And now the government in California is offering a way of getting paid back for that. The electric company at that time, paid me out of $750,000, $320,000 to put this in. So it reduced my investment.
So I was using a lot of electricity but I was also making more than I would use, so every year I would give back $10,000. Now they have to let me keep that, which I think is wonderful.
We’ve got to find another way of producing energy. Coal is destructive to the atmosphere, it’s going to drown us in CO2. They’ve got to come up with something. Oil is depleting at such a quick rate that we wont have any in 15 years that we can afford.

So would JR today still invest in oil?

Probably, but he would invest in all sorts of energy. Energy we have to have, we’re gluttons for that. Solar is certainly the easiest. I decided on solar rather than wind power because of the moving parts in wind power. It has to be repaired, a lot of maintenance on it. And once you’ve got your solar panels up they just sit there for thirty or forty years and they supply you with enough energy to run tons of things, certainly my house.
Germany only gets about a third or maybe 2/3rds of the sunlight we have in California, and it’s still successful, still works there.

So you’re engaged in the Solar Electric Light Fund, tell us something about that.

My lawyer in Dallas is a guy named Richard Freeling and he has a son who has a non-profit organization called Solar Electric Light Fund and we go around the world (I sit on the board) electrifying villages all over the place.

We have one in Brazil, it has a school and they have a direct uplink to satellites.
Schools that don’t have books have the internet, which means they can learn anything.
And we have one in South Africa,

And I think there’s one going in Malawi. We have many Solar electric Light Fund organizations that bring electricity so you can cool medicines.

So what about Haiti, when you heard about the earthquake in Haiti, what was your first reaction?

Haiti’s had this dreadful earth quake, it decimated the country, killed 250-300 thousand people. Very, very poor country. And I’ve been involved with Solar Electric Light Fund, trying to procure solar panels, which of course Solar World has given us to keep the clinics there. They have a terrible problem with Tuberculosis and AIDS there, almost pandemic, and this will help them keep their medicines cold and also allow them to work after the sunlight. And they can have battery back up and solar panels, because they’ve been using diesel to electrify their villages. The price of diesel goes up and down, it’s very expensive there. So solar will be a God send to all the clinics, there, I think you have 10 clinics there.

I think the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, I’m amazed that it hadn’t happened before. I mean it’s really amazing with all the oil wells down there it’s never happened, and at this depth it’s very difficult to contain. I don’t know if they’re ever going to do it. I hope they do, I don’t know maybe it just runs out after a while, but that could be years.

I think it will happen more and more and at that depth it’s very hard to contain.

But you’ve got to understand the position of the oil industry. The energy industry in America, is ruled by the oil industry, therefore our congressmen, our senators, all our politicians take tremendous donations.

I think if people had the wherewithal and the industry to control their own intake and output of electricity, life would be a lot simpler for everyone

If there was a law which said every home should and must have solar energy, it would make a lot of difference and if they got incentives from the government to achieve that, it would happen quickly.

It’s been fun, and I’m sure we’re going to change the world.

The challenge then falls to those world leaders to show the way, to put solar on their own roofs. For it shouldn’t be just up to the world’s poor to take on these cleaner, more sustainable technologies.

The Put Solar On It Challenge

Dear World Leaders,
The time has come for action on the climate crisis.

On 10/10/10, thousands of communities will join together to celebrate climate solutions. All over the world, we’ll be putting up solar panels, installing wind turbines, digging community gardens, and more.

Will you join us? Install solar panels on your roof, and then enact legislation to make it possible for everyone in your country to join you in the clean energy future. We need you to act symbolically—and then we need you to act for real.

Isn’t this what America should be about, what it was in the past? - Bringing energy innovation to life, creating jobs and wealth and then exporting it internationally? Bringing cheap energy to the world, making it possible to raise the standard of living of people everywhere.

Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.

Chasing the Sun, Solar Adventures Around the World, Neville Williams

Tags: Energy · advertising · renewable energy · solar

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 World Wide News Flash // Jul 16, 2010 at 10:14 pm

    JR Ewing evolves from fossil fool to solar star…

    I found your entry interesting do I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…

  • 2 Scaling Green » Blog Archive » Taking Action to Grow Solar // Sep 20, 2010 at 10:50 am

    [...] is a solution to many of the problems facing us today. Solar reduces pollution. It reduces our use of finite energy sources. And it reduces our dependence on foreign sources of [...]

  • 3 Taking Action to Grow Solar | BrighterEnergy.org // Sep 22, 2010 at 7:09 am

    [...] is a solution to many of the problems facing us today. Solar reduces pollution. It reduces our use of finite energy sources. And it reduces our dependence on foreign sources of [...]

  • 4 Taking Action to Grow Solar | AllWest Energy // Oct 14, 2010 at 7:45 pm

    [...] is a solution to many of the problems facing us today. Solar reduces pollution. It reduces our use of finite energy sources. And it reduces our dependence on foreign sources of [...]

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