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solar architecture

The sun won't send us a bill

It has never been easier to be ecologically sensible than it is today. Because ‘eco’ pays. The majority of those living in rich countries haven’t become ecologists overnight. But they will change over to ecological sources of energy and better energy efficiency because they want to save money. In Germany, an increasing number of house owners are improving the insulation of their homes because they have realised that, over just a few years, this is cheaper than wasting energy. Word has got out in Germany, Austria and Switzerland that saving energy means saving money. Lowering costs and protecting the climate go hand in hand.

The potential of renewable energy
One of our neighbours in Baden-Baden said nasty things about our solar power plant for 16 years; now he is converting. ‘The old energy has become too expensive’ is his argument today. And Angela Merkel knows: ‘The longer you neglect doing what is necessary, the more expensive it will be to do what is unavoidable later!’ – and that applies especially to building. It is true that climate protection costs something – but what are the costs of NOT protecting the climate? Years ago, the German Bank for Reconstruction showed its clients that no climate protection would cost the future.
The societies that switch to 100% renewable energy sources over the coming decades will be at the forefront of the global economy tomorrow. They have bright prospects for the future. However, as Gorbachev said, life punishes those who come too late. It is up to each and every one of us to make a conscious decision for renewable energy – we are all able to act freely. Renewable energy also means greater independence. The greatest potential lies with those who work together with the natural resources of renewable forms of energy.

For the first time in history, the solar age has brought us a lasting solution to our energy problems. Oil, coal, gas and uranium will soon be depleted but we will still be able to use solar, wind, biomass, sea, water and geothermal energy for millions of years to come. In spite of that, nowhere have the politicians and population, the architects and planners, done enough to avoid the climate catastrophe. If we apply ourselves, millions of jobs will be generated, any solar value created will remain in the regions, regional trade will profit, regional cultures and identities will be promoted, the democratic control of future, decentralised energy provision will finally be realised, and the basis for the livelihood of present and future generations protected.
The oil sheikhdom of Abu Dhabi is one of the United Arab Emirates. Up to 98% of its amazing wealth comes from its black gold. And, this is where the world’s first solar industrial city – Masdar – will be built in 2009.
The lives and work of 47,500 people and 1,500 enterprises will be completely based on renewable energy. The leader of the project, Sultan Al Jaber, is sure that: ‘One day, all cities will be built like Masdar’. The urban planner of Masdar is the renowned British architect Norman Foster who designed the Reichstag in Berlin to harness 95% of its energy from renewable energy sources and also planned the Commerzbank’s ‘energy skyscraper’ in Frankfurt. Foster believes, ‘Solar energy is not just a passing fashion, but a question of the survival of mankind’. The German solar firm Conergy is building the major power plant for the solar city. Is Masdar really feasible everywhere?

Even the boss of Europe’s largest energy company, Wulf Bernotat, caused a minor uproar when he pulged that his newly-built house was equipped with a heat pump and solar cells and that this made it possible for him to save 80% of his former electricity costs. In his own private home, the head of E.ON is already taking advantage of the sun and benefiting from its savings while selling the old form of energy, which is becoming increasingly expensive, to his customers. Wulf Bernotat has learned that the sun never sends a bill and, at the same time, informs his customers that the prices for electricity and gas will continue to rise.

Solar wealth – prosperity for all
Our Earth has the sun to thank for its wealth. Every second, the sun sends us 15,000 times as much energy as the 6.7 billion people on our planet currently need. But we make too little use of this natural wealth because we are not sufficiently aware of it. We are still trapped by the old atomic/fossil energy economy, which means wars, environmental destruction, exploitation, poverty for many and the destruction of the economy for all. In order to satisfy our energy requirements today, we import oil from Saudi Arabia, gas from Siberia and uranium from Australia. But we only use a minuscule amount of the environmentally friendly, local, solar, wind, biomass and geothermal energy sources. As a result, we have produced ‘the greatest market failure in the history of mankind’ as the former head economist of the World Bank, Sir Nicholas Stern, describes our present insane energy policies.
If only for this reason: the future belongs to the sun that will shine for a good few billion years longer – free, environmentally friendly and without any wars. No life can exist without the sun. But, every day, we burn as much coal, gas and oil as nature took 500,000 days to produce. Only when we become aware of this lunacy, will we follow the path leading into the solar age. Only a global solar economy will seriously start to tackle switching to the unlimited sources of solar energy available to us all on a large scale. The goal of a solar age and global solar economy could be: citizens to the sun, to freedom! And that means freedom in a just world. Anyone who builds with the sun contributes to peace.

Solar architecture under the sign of the energy change
The technologies necessary for a 100% switch have already been developed – also, and especially, in Germany. For example, the solar architect Rolf Disch has built 60 houses in Freiburg, the solar roofs of which produce three times as much electricity as the residents need. In future, we will be able to make money with the roofs of our houses and protect the environment at the same time. A win-win situation. O sole mio!
The global solar economy and aesthetic solar architecture will create new challenges for mankind’s creative potential. Millions of new agents and supporters of the change to solar energy will be found in small and medium-sized business, among farmers, house owners, and architects throughout the world. There is no society, no region and no country incapable of making a 100% switch to renewable energy. The sun shines for all of us. That means climate protection is possible. There is still an escape route out of the greenhouse. In 2007, renewable energy achieved a turnover of more than US$100 billion for the first time – it could rise to $800 billion in 2012. This is the beginning of the solar age. And, architects will learn where the south is and build with the sun. A person who opens up his house to the south and closes it to the north can save half of his heating energy. What are we waiting for?


Franz Alt is a journalist and author; he writes guest commentaries and background reports for newspapers and magazines, and lectures worldwide on renewable energy and the solar age. He has received numerous environmental and solar prizes for his commitment.


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