It takes your energy to save energy: How local councils can benefit the environment through solar power*

Great minds glimpsed the potential of the sun as an energy source long before the current emphasis on renewable energy. For example, Albert Einstein explained the photoelectric effect (the principle behind what produces solar power) and wrote a thesis about it in 1905 – years before he won the 1921 Nobel Prize.  In fact, Einstein conducted several important experiments with some of the earliest solar panels. And in 1931, Thomas Edison, inventor of the light bulb and phonograph, expressed this prescient hope – and fear: “I’d put my money on the Sun and 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.”

While both men foresaw the sun’s potential as a power source, they didn’t predict the damage that would result from our prolonged use of fossil fuels as an energy source – damage brought home sharply recently when, for the first time in human history, the concentration of climate-warming carbon dioxide in the atmosphere passed the milestone level of 400 parts per million (ppm). Greenhouse gases were previously at this level only once before – several million years ago when the sea level was up to 40 metres higher than today, the Arctic was dry, and the Sahara desert was a savannah.

Local Councils: empowering the great society
Governing bodies across the world are taking action to stem this dangerous trend.  In Australia, we have aggressive goals and policies in place to ensure a strong shift toward renewable energy use.  And at the recent LGMA Congress and Business Expo in Hobart, the theme reflected how local councils could help overcome challenges to create and maintain a Great Society – a society dependent upon the careful protection of Australia’s environment and vital natural resources.

How solar will help
Here’s a checklist of how solar can help your local council manage environmental risk while you benefit surrounding communities (and future generations). 

Solar energy:
  • helps build resilience against the effects of climate change – effects that include extreme heat, melting icecaps, rising sea levels and the destruction of vulnerable natural ecosystems
  • contributes to national goals for reduced carbon emission and increased use of renewable energy
  • provides a productive, low-cost and environmentally sound use of closed landfills and the legacy waste in those landfills. Did you know that methane produced by rubbish tips results in a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide? Methane that would otherwise enter the atmosphere can be collected and used as a fuel source to generate electricity
  • saves water in remote farming communities where future resource is in danger. For example, landfill-based solar installations better control leachate (water that has percolated through a solid and leached out some of the constituents), help ensure clear water runoff, enhance water table sequestration and help prevent ground water contamination
  • provides a cost-effective energy efficiency upgrade to community-use buildings, such as stadiums and town halls
  • helps create awareness about clean energy and environmental protection throughout the community.
Serving future generations: deployment feeds innovation
The key to ‘renewable energy’ lies in that first word – renewable.  Solar energy, unlike fossil fuels, provides a limitless supply of energy for current and future generations.  And nothing feeds research and development like deployment.  The more solar installations proliferate, the more researchers and companies will spend on further refining and improving solar-driven energy solutions.

Local councils can play an enormous part to ensure that this deployment and related development takes place, contributing long-term to a Great Society that values and protects the environment.

*Copy supplied by Doug Fletcher General Manager Solar Inception Pty. Ltd.

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