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Local 26 apprentice electricians Richard Donohue (left) and Tashina Reynolds (center) and JATC instructor Rhett Roe work on panel and inverter for solar PV array on the rooftop of modular house on the National Mall. Not pictured are Local 26 JATC instructors Richard G. Murphy and Gian Appiani.

Part 4:  'On the Threshold of a Revolution: Jobs, Technology and the Environment

June 2001 IBEW Journal

PV specialists from some 15 countries are working within the International Energy Agency on a five-year effort to optimize solar PV systems, Ayers told delegates to the IBEW Construction Conference. Innovative architects in Europe, Japan and North America are [exploring] creative ways of incorporating solar electricity into their designs.  ...Solar voltaics is going to be an important part of our lives.

Conference guest speaker Steven J. Strong, president of Solar Design Associates, described the enormous technological advances achieved in solar PV over the past 15 years. An architect/engineer and internationally recognized expert in the field, he presented a world overview of building-integrated PV activity and showed slides of notable solar electric architecture in Europe, Japan and the United States.

Over the past 25 years, [Strong] has designed dozens of homes and buildings powered by solar electricity, noted Ayers. In 1984, working with New England Electric, he completed the worlds first PV-powered neighborhood in central Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) commissioned Strongs firm in 1979 to design and oversee the construction of the worlds first solar electric house in Carlisle, Massachusetts. The house is an all electric house, said Strong, and it produces a surplus of electricity on an annual basis. It meets all of its [electricity] needs and has some left over, which it exports to the local utility grid.

We completed this house over 20 years ago at a time when the cost of solar electric components was frightfully high, said Strong. Since then, the industry has [vastly improved the technology and scaled up] mass production to the point where we are on the threshold of a revolution in the way that we generate electricity.

Solar electric technology has effectively doubled in its efficiency over the last 15-17 years, said Strong. One of the issues you as tradesmen will face as solar electricity becomes increasingly popular is retrofitting existing buildings with large solar arrays.

....This is work for ... our electrical workers, and its also necessary for [North America] to compete internationally. If you look at our trading competitors in Europe and Japan, you will see that their societies ... use less than half the amount of energy that we do in the United States, and that gap is growing.

[ To Part 5 ]