The Other Solar Panel

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Books, Energy, Locavore, Organic Gardening, Ron Ferrell, Tips | Posted on 06-10-2008


by Ron Ferrell

Now that creating and harvesting sustainable energy is on many people’s minds, it seems to me that we need to rethink what solar energy is, can be, and how simply the average person can create and harvest it. The most obvious method of harvesting solar energy is the solar panel, a photovoltaic panel that converts the sun’s energy to the electricity needed to power our homes and hopefully someday our vehicles.

Most homeowners can’t afford to retrofit their home with solar panels or wind turbines in an effort to go green and generate the power to save money and the environment, so is that the end of the conversation for the vast majority of people on the planet? Perhaps, but our ultimate goal is still to find an affordable way to convert the sun’s energy into energy we can use at home. 

The electricity produced with solar and wind energy is great but expensive, and someone else far away owns it. The grid delivers energy produced by wind, coal, natural gas and fossil fuel, but we’re all on one giant extension cord and to me that spells potential disaster.

If we look at the amount of money the average person spends on fuel for the home plus the amount of money spent on food, it soon adds up to an almost insurmountable deficit for the budgets of many families. Both are expensive, but can we actually do anything to reduce these costs at home? Both the cost of food and fuel are rapidly on the rise and the common denominator for both is fuel…fossil fuel.

So what if we could figure out a way to drastically reduce the amount of money the average homeowner is spending for utility bills and food costs? We have already ruled out solar panels and wind turbines for the average homeowner’s budget. They can replace light bulbs in the home, weatherproof, insulate, and perform typical ‘green’ measures to save energy and money, but they most likely are not able to generate any of their own power without a large investment in solar or wind.

However, there is a cheap, readily available, and totally renewable solar panel that has been around for millions of years. This solar panel won’t change your utility bill, but it will drop your food bill tremendously. That solar panel is the LEAF, an edible solar panel! 

While reading Four Season Harvest by Eliot Coleman, it dawned on me that leaves are quite simply solar panels converting sunlight into energy. FOOD ENERGY!  Food IS energy, and that is why calories are measured in BTU’s. 

Mr. Coleman refers to seeds as ‘stored energy,’ energy that can be saved, eaten or used for commerce. This energy in the form of seeds and leaves is essential for animal and human life and can be produced quite cheaply, precisely where we live, alleviating some of the burden from high food and gas prices by erasing trips to the grocery store.

So rather than stress out over what we should be doing to lessen the demand on world energy sources and find that we can’t do much without spending great sums of money, I encourage everyone to invest a tiny amount of money in packets of seeds and plant a garden. Plant a vegetable! Grow some food, reduce your food bill and your stress level over not being ‘green’ enough. Grow your own edible solar panels!

Comments (1)

Really dig the blog. Just got back into blogging and rebuilding my connections. Sustainability is a huge interest of mine. Granted I’ve only completed two entries (both about social media), I plan on interweaving my interests in renewable energies, public relations, politics and social media because there are so many topics to cover and venues to promote important issues. We can’t just read about it in the news; Web 2.0 has optimized our abilities to get the word out about…anything, so I appreciate what you guys are doing.
What really caught my eye was your two cents on solar/photovoltaic panels. I recently conducted a fair amount of market research regarding Oregon’s upcoming solar industry boom. In the last 20 months, at least six major solar panel manufacturing plants have staked their claim in Oregon. When some of the major computer chip manufacturers closed down/laid off a great number of employees, it created a surplus of unemployed workers. This group of people falls into the “green collar” jobs everyone keeps mentioning because computer chips and photovoltaic chips are basically the same thing, just applied differently. I think Oregon’s going to set the example for solar energy production in-house rather than overseas.