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     by John Patterson

This is the first in a series of articles by individuals who have, for the last 30 years or more, been actively engaged in building a more sustainable lifestyle for themselves and for their community. John Patterson, founder and owner of Mr. Sun Solar, has stepped up to the plate and volunteered to be our first "Pioneer" and share some of his thoughts with us.

In 1979, I put a solar water heating system on my home and was very impressed with how well it worked. I thought solar made good investment sense.

In 1979, I put a solar water heating system on my home and was very impressed with how well it worked. I thought solar made good investment sense.

I started Mr. Sun Solar in 1980, and since then we have installed over 2000 solar systems. In 1999 Oregon implemented a net metering law that allowed customers with solar electric systems to receive a credit for the excess electricity they generated during the summer. They could apply that credit toward their electric bills during rainy periods. Zero net energy occurs when the credits are enough to cover a customer's electric bills over a year's time. I burned to have a zero net business.

Know Someone who has been active in the sustainability movement for 30 years or more? We would like know about them.

In August 2007 my company became the first zero net business west of the Cascades. It was the greatest accomplishment of my career. I achieved my goal by making the building super energy efficient using insulation, weather stripping, tubular skylights, and solar attic fans. Then I installed a Sol-Reliant solar water heater, a maintenance-free system I invented a few years ago, and a 7 kW photovoltaic (PV) system. The $70,000 price of the PV system was reduced to $25,000 after state, federal, and local tax credits and incentives.quiet zone

When the first annual reconciling came from the utility, we had produced more energy than we used. What a thrill that was!

Over the years, my focus has shifted from saving money to saving the planet. As I research the book I'm writing, called Footprint, I realize that global warming is a clear and present danger to human life. Fossil fuels and rampant consumerism are two things we must give up if we hope to derail the runaway train of global warming and climate change.

Fortunately, Oregon has fashioned legislation that promotes alternative energy sources. Oregon tax credits for individuals and businesses, plus Energy Trust of Oregon incentives, can offset up to 50% or more of the up-front costs of non-polluting energy sources.

House Bill 3039, which Gov. Ted Kulongoski signed into law in July, should give a boost to solar energy. The bill sets up a "feed-in-tariff" funding system that allows homeowners and businesses to sell solar-produced electricity to their utility company. Feed-in-tariffs have been used successfully in Spain and Japan, and caused Germany to become a world leader in solar energy technology.

The bill also requires Pacific Power and Portland General Electric to procure 25 percent of their energy portfolio from renewable sources by 2025. This will foster a solar-friendly climate in Oregon, drawing companies like SolarWorld, which opened the nation's largest PV manufacturing plant in Hillsboro last year.

As supply and demand increases, solar technology improves. Solar water heating has advanced considerably since the 1970's. Back then, a small sensor failure could cause the system to freeze or overheat. Today's glycol-based systems provide worry-free hot water for years.

Solar pool heating is simple, reliable, and the most cost effective use of solar.

PV modules are becoming more affordable as competition increases. The first solar cell, invented in 1883, was only 1% efficient. Crystalline silicon solar cells, the most common in use today, are 24.7% efficient. Photovoltaic systems have a longer return on investment but are popular with customers who like the idea of generating their own electricity.

HB 3039 could substantially increase the use of PV in Oregon. Although the law is not without controversy, and there are many things to hammer out during the five-year trial period, it's a big step in the right direction.

Education is also key to promoting renewable energy, and it should focus just as much on keeping CO2 out of the atmosphere as it does on energy independence and saving money. A residential solar water heater can save as much as 4,000 pounds of CO2 per year. In classes I teach at Portland Community College, I show people how they can reduce their carbon footprint by 80%, which is what climate scientists say we must do to bring global warming under control. I tell everyone I know to buy green power, and I hope to see in my lifetime coal plants closing as wind turbines and PV modules go up.

I see Oregon leading the nation, and even the world, into its new clean energy future. Our legislation that promotes non-polluting energy will vault us into the forefront of a growing market, and help steer us away from using fossil fuels. Renewable energy is no longer just an option for the individual; it's a necessity for the greater society. I feel blessed to be a part of the clean energy revolution, and that solar energy has been the place for me to shine.

For more information on John Patterson plus solar energy news go to his website - mrsunsolar.com

7,466 neighbors have viewed this article.

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