How the Energy Revolution Started
One might argue that major advances in the renewable energy sector and favourable government policies have inspired individuals to live more sustainably in their own lives. I would disagree. In fact, as it is with most global movements, big ideas start locally. Cities and communities are the real agents of change. Certainly, changes in our habits—and the way we think as individuals—will initiate these global movements.
It was with that in mind that a group of university students from Montreal set out to design a low-impact, economically accessible, solar-powered home that was both robust enough to withstand our varied Canadian weather and comfortable to live in. By integrating solar panels directly in our roof, we’ll be using it as both an isolator and source of power. Yet, sustainability is really about our consumption habits, i.e. the way we use the energy we produce. And so, our focus is also on encouraging the inhabitants to think about their actions, be it inside or outside their home. By fostering these attitudes, we hope to further engrain this idea of sustainability into the realm of common knowledge.
As the technical lead for the photovoltaic group within our team, I’ve been heavily involved in the research of residential solar power. The concept has been proven to work time and again, especially in prominent national and international home building competitions. Today, thin-film solar cells and solid panels are used on anything from roof shingles to gazebos. They sit atop louvers, skylights, parapets and awnings, increasing the useable area for harnessing the energy from the sun. True, the drop in the cost of solar panels was brought about by commercial development. But the point is that commercial development never begins without an expression of interest from the market. In other words, there was a general desire to reduce our dependence on non-renewable, environmentally harmful sources of energy.
The opinion of a people can have a considerable impact on whether an industry prospers or not. Case in point: at the turn of the last decade, support for nuclear energy was on the rise in the United States. That was until the unfortunate incident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan, when support plummeted. Therefore, there should be more focus on public outreach to inform people about the alternatives that exist and the benefits they can bring.
At the end of the day, public opinion matters. Having the backing of a community serves as market validation for a product or service, not to mention being a big plus in terms of public relations. This is how climate change has taken ever increasing importance in our collective psyche. As cities continue to grow in size, we have begun to realize that our impact on the environment is significant. This has fuelled the drive for sustainable and renewable energy. Local initiatives are what triggered the global progress we are witnessing—and not the other way around.
Francis Amankrah is the technical lead for the photovoltaic group within the solar-powered house project. The Solar-Powered House Project is a student-led initiative in Montreal to design and build a full-scale, sustainable home. firstname.lastname@example.org