The Power of Solar Communities

by Joe Brewer: environmental writer, cognitive scientist, co-founder of hivethrive blog, and agent for progressive social change

The great innovations of the 21st Century will be social. I predict that the solutions to our greatest challenges will emerge through new ways of coming together. Case in point, the Drake Landing Solar Community is a fully integrated housing development that takes solar to the next level. Solar panels channel heat through a series of underground pipes to produce a reservoir of energy for warming the 52 home neighborhood throughout the winter months.

This is a social solution. The community is built around the ideas of (1) producing energy locally and (2) sharing in the effort through a common infrastructure. In order for this to work, the homes must be structured in such a way that neighbors are in close proximity to one another.

Neighborly behavior is the future for solar.

This idea is taking hold in a number of places. Another example is the partnership between Global Green and Community Housingworks that has produced the first fully solar powered apartment community in the state of California. This community includes 54 homes and several business sites that share the wealth of abundant sunlight.

And that’s not all. Community Housingworks provides resources to its tenants including courses in financial management, special needs housing opportunities, and leadership training for broader civic engagement. Developers are shaping the future of these homes with a focus on community.

Already have a home? No problem. Home owners can get organized and purchase solar upgrades in bulk, reducing the cost for each installment and distributing the risk across the entire neighborhood. Community solar programs are offered by the company, SolarCity, to encourage “buying in bulk.”

Yes, of course there is a need for new technological innovations like MIT’s prototype solar dish that may prove to be the most energy efficient and affordable in the world. But the real breakthroughs will be in the ways we integrate these techologies into the structures of our communities.

Mark my words on this one - 21st Century innovations will be overwhelmingly social in nature. Ultimately, it will be about our vision of what it means to be a community.

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  • Posted on July 16, 2008. Listed in:

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