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We swim in sunlight and solar power every day and every minute of daylight.  We just don't recognize it as btu's, lumens, or watts.  We don't count the calories in our solar diet and include no accounting in our energy budget for all the sunlight we already use.

Part and parcel of this invisibility is our inability to see actual working solar when it is right in front of our eyes.  Probably the most common solar electric device around your town is the portable electric sign powered by PV panels.  It's that orange thing behind the tree.


Can you see the PV panels on this health center in Brookline, MA?  Would you recognize it as solar, glancing up from the street or your car window as you passed by?


This is the Porter Square Shopping Center in Cambridge, MA. The story I heard, is that the owners, one of whom was John O'Connor, author of Who Owns the Sun? and an environmental activist, wanted people to see the PV panels so they raised them up on steel girders, an investment more costly than the panels themselves.  I always thought they should have included some legend on the steel like "Solar Energy at Work" or "Solar Energy Works!"  I think that might be a good idea on other public solar installations too.


This is one of those poles with PV panels you can see by the side of many highways.  My guess is they power some monitoring, emergency, or communications equipment but I don't know exactly what.  They are all over the place.


This trash container is a solar powered trash compactor.  They were invented in Jamaica Plain and Boston is testing out 50 around the city.  This one is in Davis Square in Somerville.  The first one I saw was on Spectacle Island last summer.


Boston is also trying out solar powered parking meters.  As a bicyclist, I think there are still some design issues to be worked out.


Keep your eyes open.  At least when the sun is shining.

Originally posted to gmoke on Fri Apr 13, 2007 at 08:34 PM PDT.


Do you recognize solar when you see it?

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Comment Preferences

  •  for your next diary (6+ / 0-)

    i'll dig up one of my photos of the solar cells that the oil companies use to operate their oil derricks.

  •  Go Boston! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RunawayRose, ablington, astraea

    Cambridge also has some pretty pioneering energy programs.

    •  Cambridge Energy Alliance (6+ / 0-)

      On March 29, 2007 the City of Cambridge and the Henry P. Kendall Foundation launched a major new energy initiative to implement unprecedented efficiency improvements in energy, water, and transportation. A new, non-profit organization is being created called the Cambridge Energy Alliance, which offer services and financing to upgrade buildings of all types throughout the city. Where appropriate, renewable energy systems and combined heat and power systems will also be installed. To register your interest in the Cambridge Energy Alliance, see the initiative's website at

      Supposedly, the program will be a $100 million investment.

      Solar is civil defense. Video of my small scale solar experiments at

      by gmoke on Fri Apr 13, 2007 at 08:41:03 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  More solar, please (9+ / 0-)

    They sell solar panels at my local hardware store. I'm hoping that solar power becomes commonplace this year.

    Thank you for this diary.

    This above all: to thine own self be true...-WS

    by Agathena on Fri Apr 13, 2007 at 08:34:30 PM PDT

  •  GREAT DIARY (5+ / 0-)

    and I love to see SOLAR PANELS in all shapes and forms!

  •  Seattle uses those solar parking meters (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RunawayRose, DaleA, Lefty Mama, maryru

    and the sun never has change, so that's why it rains all the time.

    Seriously, Seattle started installing those meters several years ago. There's been some screwups, when I was in town a friend shown me one meter that had its panel facing north, in the shadow of a building to the south, with a large tree screening the sky from it for half the year. But most seem to be working OK.

    They also use solar powered emergency phones on many of the bridges and more limited access portions of freeways.

    None of these are significant uses in terms of power, they are more a convenience to avoid running power to the device. But they get people used to the idea of using solar, simple because they are visible. The parking meters might be a bad idea from the publicity standpoint, but emergency phones are a plus.

    The solar-LED walkway lamps are common, although given the short winter days and cloud cover they tend to become rather faint mid-evening.

  •  Solar power for homes (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Joe Bob, RunawayRose, Leap Year

    I was looking into solar for private homes this week. From a quick initial search, it seemed almost impossibly expensive.

    I assume part of the figures are installation costs. Does anyone know if an adept DIY kind of person (someone who can replace wiring and install appliances without electrocution) buy the panels and do the installation without hiring someone?

    I've been on an energy kick this week. A bit of research showed me this week that my husband and I have cut our electical usage by 25% since we bought our house in 2002. This is great, but we could do more (we still have a collection of old and probably fairly inefficient appliances that are probably sucking power like crazy).

    humani nil a me alienum puto (I consider nothing human foreign to me) --Terence

    by astraea on Fri Apr 13, 2007 at 08:44:41 PM PDT

  •  If you attend YearlyKos (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    maybe you could track down and photograph some of solar/LED bus stops.

    Circumcision removes his choice. NOCIRC

    by RealityBias on Fri Apr 13, 2007 at 09:06:59 PM PDT

  •  Priaise & Critique (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tmo, Calamity Jean

    Thank you for this diary series.

    However I do wish the polls were designed to illuminate people's views on some interesting point, including a reasonable coherent set of answer choices.

    Keep up the great work.

    Circumcision removes his choice. NOCIRC

    by RealityBias on Fri Apr 13, 2007 at 09:11:54 PM PDT

  •  Sonny, I Learned To Recognize Solar Power... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RunawayRose, means are the ends a wee tadpole with an International Rectifier
    Solar Radio Kit! That danged thing never worked, but
    I learned what a solar cell looked like.

    I pointed out the solar-powered parking kiosk (like
    the one you illustrated upthread) outside Cortiva
    Institute on Wabash Ave. here in Chicago to my wife.

    I've seen bunches of solar panels atop the canopies
    of BP/Amoco stations around Chicago. I'd love to see

    I saw some PV panels atop the local grade school
    in Pecatonica, IL.

    I hope to see a growing group of PV panels outside a
    coupla concrete geodesic domes along a road outside
    of Orangeville, IL, in the coming years, keeping a
    vertical axis wind turbine company. Stephenson
    County approved our special use permit, and the
    seller's people found good palces to put the septic

    WindiHill Farm, here we come!

  •  Oh, and the pole by the wayside... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RunawayRose, means are the ends

    ...of the highways? It's a microwave traffic
    monitor. Solar powered, of course.

    Counts cars, observes backups....

  •  I have solar envy (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RunawayRose, peace voter, astraea

    I WANT photovoltaics, and solar hot water heater at my house. We will put a new roof on our house this year. I have looked a little bit a shingles integrated with photovotaics for the south side, but I am not sure the angle would be ideal. I hope to be hooked up with grid-tie solar in the next couple years. If Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush had just followed Carter's lead we would be so much farther along.... Germany is kicking our ass on solar power.

    Edwards at least has been talking up solar power and has installed it at his home. I hope the other presidential candidates are talking about it. Kossacks in Iowa and New Hampshire- please ask about solar power when you see them.

    by Stumptown Dave on Fri Apr 13, 2007 at 09:30:36 PM PDT

  •  Oakland, CA Sustainable Plan (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tmo, RunawayRose

    One thing Jerry Brown did do while mayor was hire some activist to create and implement a 100-year plan for a sustainable Oakland. I don't know how much of the plan they're actually doing (Jerry Brown is not my favorite politician anymore) but for a while they went around installing solar panels on all kinds of roofs.

    Our local hardware store has a huge solar panel array on top. I understand that some big shipping/distribution center at the airport has a large array as well. (Fed Ex?)

    Since we have sunshine for a huge part of the year, it's a no-brainer. Even San Francisco, famously foggy, is putting up solar arrays on rooftops.

    This summer I'm going to install a really great "umbrella" revolving clothesline. I was planning to even before the NY Times wrote about clotheslines and global warming. We will wait until the price comes down on the solar panels before installing, but in the meantime, we just don't consume that much.

  •  I'm sorry but like most Americans (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RunawayRose, walkshills

    I can't trust anything I can't hold in my hand. Seriously though, great post. My neighbor across the streetf rom me growing in the 70s installed solar panels on their house. It was particularly unusual as this was just outside of Boston. My neighbors names? The Sunshines! You can't make this shit up.

    Malkin and her ilk have grown both fat and crafty suckling at the teat of Rove.

    by Anacher Forester on Fri Apr 13, 2007 at 10:20:31 PM PDT

  •  Of course there's another example (3+ / 0-)

    of solar power in your first pic.

    It's what the solar panel is hiding behind, giving shade, elegance, habitat and carbon storage, but no electricity.

    Good diary, thanks. The benefits of deployable power of this sort are often undervalued; laying  wire is too ingrained.

  •  Neither Yes Nor No (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Solar energy, with the planet's internal heat factory as its sidekick, accounts for nearly every single joule of energy in every ecosystem on the planet, in the oceans, in you and me, in our steaks, and in our computers. All energy sources in the industrial sense are fed by the sun-planet duo; it's just a question of how high up the entropy chain a given source is.

    Hence my somewhat mystifying "neither yes nor no" reply to your question.

  •  Al Gore's installation of solar for his house (0+ / 0-)

    in Nashville - which he's been trying to do for some time - was apparently held up because of restrictions in Belle Meade - over their visibility.  That's why I like this diary so much - we've got to begin to think solar panels are aesthetically pleasing.  Too many subdivisions have restrictions on them.

    I love my solar panels! Put on in July. (Al was on our installer's list for a next job.)  

    Our electric bill last month was just $3.97!  We produced over $75 in electricity last month through TVA'a Generation partners program.

    (And we did save a little money by having our local electrician/handy person help with the installation.)

    Buy a Boat. Save the Seed.

    by cumberland sibyl on Sat Apr 14, 2007 at 12:54:38 AM PDT

  •  Also not that much of it (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Here in California, it's under 1% of the statewide power mix.  Here's the "power content label" from my local municipal utility, showing what's actually being used around here:
    CPAU power content label

  •  More Solar (0+ / 0-)

    While Jean and I were out running some errands,
    I noticed a group of OV panels atop some stores
    on W. Belmont Avenue here in Chicago.

    They're out there!

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