Fuel for Fire: Investing in a Clean Energy Future

Carly Rixham, ASES executive director, practices yoga at a home featured on the ASES national Solar Tour in October. Photo credit: Andrea Dumais
Carly Rixham, ASES executive director, practices yoga at a home featured on the ASES national Solar Tour in October. Photo credit: Andrea Dumais

Here at the American Solar Energy Society (ASES) it’s all about the energy. In my last column (see “Perspective,” September/October 2014 issue) I shared the story of the ants forming new trails, and how using biomimicry we look to nature for solutions. Taking a larger perspective, enough sunlight reaches the earth’s atmosphere in approximately one hour to fuel our energy needs for one year! But how does the sun produce its energy? Is the sun just a burning ball of fire, and if so, wouldn’t it go out after 4.5 billion years? Let’s take a look.

The sun produces energy by the nuclear fusion of hydrogen into helium. The core of the sun is largely made up of hydrogen protons bouncing off each other. Due to heat and pressure, sometimes these protons collide to produce helium in what’s known as the proton-proton chain reaction. This collision releases energy in the form of mass of subatomic particles: positrons and neutrinos. It’s E=mc2, where c is the speed of light, a constant of the universe.

This energy is then radiated via gamma rays from the core out to the visible surface of the sun, the photosphere, where this visible light is free to propagate into space and wash across the atmospheres or bodies of our solar system. The earth’s atmosphere filters some of the ultraviolet rays, but allows a dose of that energy to pass, which in turn bounces off of the earth’s surface and is then reflect- ed back by the atmosphere. After this bounce, the earth absorbs some of the energy and our planet is heated.

This has been happening for 4.5 billion years in sheer cosmic perfection, and shows no signs of stopping for another 4 or 5 billion years! That’s something we can bank on.

Quite literally, in fact. As stewards of our planet, the sustainable and responsible investing movement paves the way for us to vote with our dollars. Please join me in divesting your fossil fuel investments and reinvesting in clean, renewable energy. It’s easy! Take the pledge at divestinvest.org. Regardless of how much or little you have to share, I believe this is one of the most impactful ways we can participate in the new energy economy. We owe it to our planet, to our ancestors, and to our grand- children. Do your part!

What’s new with ASES?

Lots! SOLAR 2015, the 44th ASES National Solar Conference, will be at Penn State University, July 28-30. The event will be preceded, as usual, by the ASES Divisions and Chapters Caucuses. This year’s conference theme is “Expanding Horizons: Shaping the New Energy Economy.”

We are excited to continue our academic affiliation with Penn State as we hit the ground running with conference planning. The event will be hosted at the all-inclusive Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel, just on the edge of campus in State College, Pennsylvania. There will be many activities to go along with conference technical sessions, including a tour of the MorningStar PA house—Penn State’s entry in the 2007 U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon—other solar house tours, opportunities for cave tours, ASES Emerging Professionals special events, world-class mountain biking, and famous ice cream at Penn State’s Berkey Creamery.

The call for abstracts and forum ideas is underway, with proposals due Feb. 13—learn more at solar2015.ases.org. Please consider joining us and sharing your research and projects.

The annual ASES National Solar Tour, held in October, was a huge success, with more than 1,000 tour sites! I attended the tour in my hometown of Golden, Colorado, which is also home to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. I enjoyed talking to my neighbors about their creative solar solutions, from solar carports to simple passive design and straw bale building. Several NREL scientists opened their homes as tour sites, and displayed solar and other renewable features. It was great fun and I even practiced yoga at one tour site. Talk about renewable energy!

Carly Rixham (crixham@ases.org) is the Executive Director at the American Solar Energy Society.