Powered by Puppets, Driven by the Sun
Jan. 27, 2010 — I held tight to the makeshift passenger seat as the aged truck bounced across the Bay Bridge. A station wagon appeared on the right, and as it glided past I glimpsed a child in the back, its face pressed against the window, eyeing me with what seemed an undue amount of awe. My cousin Jonathan looked over from the driver’s seat, flashed a peace sign and returned to the task at hand: urging the vehicle forward, compelling it across the bridge with little more than obstinance and luck.
“Strange,” I thought. “That’s the third time that’s happened in, like, five minutes.” But it wasn’t strange, really. I had simply forgotten I was riding in the Wonder Truck, a long-since retired delivery van now painted over with vividly colored scenes of urban bliss and pastoral promise and emblazoned with the words, “Powered By Puppets.”
Jonathan is, among other pursuits, one of the creative forces behind the Sustainable Living Roadshow, a caravan of educators and entertainers seeking to empower people with bioregional solutions for sustainability - including local power generation using solar energy. On this particular afternoon, during my last visit to San Francisco, we were driving toward the Treasure Island Music Festival on the other side of the bridge, preparing to set up the Conscious Carnival Midway. Near as I could tell, we were almost there.
Yesterday I learned about entirely different attempts to promote renewable sources of energy. In the Photonics West industry session “Hot Markets in Optics: Solar,” Paula Mints of Navigant Consulting and Patricia Glaza of the Clean Technology and Sustainable Industries Organization described efforts to stimulate demand for solar energy, largely through various types of financial incentives.
Providing these incentives can be expensive, though, and some governments have begun to question whether the cost is warranted. Germany - which represents as much as 60 percent of the solar market worldwide - recently announced dramatic cuts in its feed-in electricity tariffs, sending shockwaves through the solar community. Industry insiders argue that the move will eliminate jobs and destroy many solar companies. Proponents maintain that it will ease renewable sources of energy toward the free market, a necessary step if they are to become viable alternatives.
Solar providers everywhere are keeping an eye on developments. “Growth in 2010 is going to hinge on what happens in Germany,” Mints said.
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