Power from the Sun is accessible to all

by Douglas Gordon, Chairman of the Irish Solar Energy Association

Every property owner has the opportunity to use the energy from the sun for heating and generating electricity. Loans at the same rate of interest as house mortgages would encourage them to do so.

In June 2002 the Renewable Energy Information Office, Bandon, Co. Cork and Sustainable Energy Ireland organised a conference in Tralee entitled 'See the Light, no bills from the Sun'. This was a brilliant conference with some of the top European experts on the subject of solar energy. The outcome of the conference was a meeting of delegates to decide on how best to represent the entire industry, meaning not just suppliers and installers, but also professionals and the consumers. After an hour of heated discussion it was agreed to have a follow- up meeting in Thurles to agree the setting up of an association to represent as a many aspects of the industry as possible.

By August 2002 a not for profit limited company was established with nine directors and this is now the Irish Solar Energy Association Ltd., ISEA for short. Its remit is threefold:

  • To promote solar energy
  • To raise awareness throughout the whole pop ulation.
  • To improve quality in all aspects of solar technology

You may ask what do we mean by 'solar'? The level of ignorance on this subject in all sectors is astonishing considering that solar energy is so crucial to our everyday living. We just take solar energy for granted and ignore the huge benefits to be derived from developing this virtually free resource. Solar is about:

  • Solar panels for domestic/commercial hot water
  • Photovoltaic panels for electricity generation
  • Heat pumps for space heating and cooling
  • Passive solar gain construction

Most people have some understanding of conservatories on houses and they would be familiar with solar domestic hot water roof panels, but they certainly have no experience in Ireland with town and village district heating systems derived from solar farms, which can be seen in Denmark. Interestingly Denmark is roughly on the same latitude as Ireland, so why have we in Ireland taken so long to embrace this abundant source of energy?

Has anybody thought of using photovoltaic panels as a substitute for standard roof tiles, while having the benefit of generating their own source of electricity?

Heat pumps are a greatly misunderstood technology that is only just catching on in Ireland. This is a way of harvesting the rich source of solar energy at shallow depths under the garden grass or from a borehole or other water sources 365 days of the year and at night or day time. All of this translates into a huge move away from hydrocarbon-based fuels and the possibility of meeting our Kyoto commitments with ease.

However, the current level of ignorance at all levels of Irish society means that we have an uphill battle that presents a really exciting challenge for those involved in the industry.

WHAT DOES THE ISEA PLAN TO DO?

There is so much to do, so the discipline is where to start and what to leave out at the beginning. On the best advice from our European colleagues who went through this pain threshold many years before us and learnt a lot of hard lessons, we have a short list as follows:

  • To run a PR campaign to raise the awareness among the general population
  • To develop training courses and to have a code of practice for installers
  • To affiliate with other renewable energy organisations
  • To lobby the government to bring in incen tives for solar systems.

I would be the first to say in the current difficult economic climate that the government is not going to provide any financial incentives or VAT reductions. Instead can I suggest that the financial institutions be encouraged to provide both capital and low cost loans similar to the current mortgage rates of 3.9%. Grants and VAT reductions smack of dependency culture, which is not what this €700 million industry needs. We need the best financial resources available in this country and the best management, and that means private enterprise.

The unique aspect of the ISEA is that it is essentially a bottom up organisation unlike the wind energy industry which is the preserve of business interests as it is very capital intensive. How can the man in the street get involved in wind power except by being a consumer or an environmental objector? With solar energy every man, woman, child, company, farm and institution has a role to play in helping to make Ireland not only self-sufficient in energy, and that is a reality which our politicians have not realised yet, but we should also be seriously considering how we can establish Ireland as a world leader in solar applied technology with huge export potential in design, consultancy, manufacturing and installations. With Ireland's worldwide connections this should be just as big an export potential as our computer industry. Is anybody prepared to take note of this simple fact? Is anybody interested in creating wealth and jobs? The ISEA has already had an approach from sources close to the Indian Government to get involved in technology transfer to India with a market value of €5 billion.

The ISEA is a national representative body concerned with the following:

  • To help the public to contact competent installers
  • To provide training and accreditation for member installers
  • To increase confidence in both the government and in the public regarding the serious advantages of solar energy

The address of the ISEA is 17, Kildare Street, Dublin 2. Alternatively, you may contact the Association using my e-mail - [email protected]

This is one of almost 50 chapters and articles in the 336-page large format book, Before the Wells Run Dry. Copies of the book are available for £9.95 from Green Books.

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