“Do you speak Solar?” A glossary for homeowners

If you think a net meter is a device found in a modern fisherman’s toolbox, you might want to check out this Solar Power Glossary –especially if you are planning on investing in solar panels.

(A net meter, by the way, is “an electricity meter that spins both forward and backwards. It can track how much electricity your solar system puts into the power grid and how much electricity your home pulls out of the grid,” quoting from the glossary.)

This list of terms and definitions is on SunRun’s website, a solar financing company that partners with local installers in several states, and which we recently discussed on these pages.

Before going to the glossary, however, it may be a good idea to dial back your expectations. The Oxford Dictionary of Solar Power it’s not. The glossary wasn’t designed for professionals or even for DIYers who want to design and build their own system.

What it does allow you to do is what most homeowners interested in having a solar array installed, actually need to do: know what the sales rep. is talking about and ask questions that will receive answers that are both specific and understandable.

Fireitup is putting together our own solar glossary, with a little more meat on its bones. We also plan on including the marketplace terminology that lurks in the fine print of your contract or lease.

Until that’s available, this solar power glossary is a good start.

SolarAid works to create a solar Africa

Yesterday, we featured a piece on economist Jeffrey Sachs, who supports the concept of using solar power to combat poverty in developing nations. Today, we look at an organization that is doing just that.

SolarAid is a non-profit based in London that combines market forces and international aid to tackle two of the world’s most important problems: global poverty and climate change.

Cate Blachett introduces the group.

SolarAid was started in 2006 by Jeremy Leggett, a man whose bifurcated career path makes his founding of the group seem inevitable. Leggett started out working in the oil industry, a business, shall we say, not typically known for its environmental record. (At least, not in any positive sense.)

In the late 1980s Leggett became convinced that human induced climate change would reach a crisis point unless humanity switched from fossil fuels to non-polluting renewables. So the oilman made one of those leaps so common in film and all too rare in life — he left the oil industry and become chief scientist for the group Greenpeace.

Poor land makes poor people; poor people make poor land

SolarAid describes its strategy to combat the vicious cycle of poverty and environmental decline in simple terms:

SolarAid aims to enable the world’s poorest people to have clean, renewable power. Solar power leads to better education, health, safety and income by allowing poor communities to cook, pump water, run fridges, store vaccines, light homes, schools, clinics and businesses, power computers and homes, farm more effectively, and much more.

The organization funds microsolar projects mainly in sub-Saharan Africa, like the one described by Blanchett.

SolarAid funds and trains individuals in small communities to set up microbusinesses involving solar power. One common project is converting kerosene lamps into solar lanterns, LEDs charged by solar power.

The group also has larger “macrosolar” projects, such as installing rooftop solar generating systems on schools, health clinics and community centers.

The beauty and promise of SolarAid’s work is that it helps people who have no electrical power (or political power for that matter), move directly to an abundant renewable energy source without the toxic effects of passing first through a petroleum-based system, as we have in the West (a system that is still pervasive in “developed” countries).

That’s also part of the beauty of technological change. When based on a sustainable model, new technologies allow people and whole nations to leapfrog over inefficient, polluting and hazardous older forms of industrialized activity.

SolarAid plans to bring solar power to millions of people throughout Africa. Now that’s the kind of “thousand points of light” program that can change a continent and help form a better world.

Jeffrey Sachs on solar’s bright future

I’ve never come away from reading or listening to Jeffrey Sachs and thought, “Well, that was a waste of time.”

Not that I always agree with the man once called “Dr. Shock,” for his tough-love financial doctrine first popularized in the new Russia. But agreement is beside the point. The man is brilliant, his ideas have weight and sometimes they’re proved correct.

Here’s Jeffrey Sachs, currently head of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, on why solar power makes sense, particularly in the poorest regions of the world.