The Short Life of Solar Energy (Goodman, 1979)

May 31, 2010

I rarely talk about energy, however today I’m going to transcribe a section of the book “The Last Entrepreneurs” (1979) by Robert Goodman, now a Professor at Hampshire College, MA (I tell you where he’s now because there are many Robert Goodmans). I like the book on how it criticizes many of the strategies taken by local governments. It’s somewhat similar to David Harvey idea on Urban Entrepreneurialism (1989), but if focus a lot on solutions for local governements, and even supports the idea of “Regional Socialism” (I told you similar to Harvey :)   However I’m going to type down this part about energy, because I found it very interesting. It kind of makes me think why we don’t have on the top of the roof here in California a simple solar water heating device.

3000 thousand years ago, the King Solomon was supposed to have said “There is nothing new under the sun” (Bible, Ecc. 1:9). So when we talk about energy, we all know that today’s use of energy comes from an evolutionary process. I remember when I spent the summer as a kid in my grandmas pueblo in Spain, that she put the plastic bath tub during the siesta in the sun. I remember the water was cold when she put it, but it was later quite warm to take a good bath!

Anyways here is these paragraphs:

The Short Life of Solar Energy. The development of regional energy systems was shaped not simply by what most naturally available, but by what was useful to the large energy companies. The “new” solar energy systems of the 1970s actually began to develop in California and Florida as early as the 1890s. But growing private energy companies, exploring for gas and oil in the 1900s, were able to nip that development in the bud.

The technology for present-day systems was patented in 1891 by Clarence Kemp, a Baltimore inventor who put four galvanized iron water tanks in an insulated pine box covered with glass. By the early 1900s thousands of solar water heater users in California were saving about 75 percent on their gas bills for heating water. By the 1910s at least 4000 known solar water heaters had been manufactured, and uncounted others were being produced by local plumbers and tradespeople. By 1920 one small company was selling 1000 units a year. Florida saw an even more impressive boom; by 1941, at least 60,000 solar water heaters had been installed in that state.

In the 1920s, the gas utilities expanded their energy role in California. As the companies made new discoveries, for a time they dropped prices drastically, helped finance the sale of gas units, installed them free, and sometimes even carried the loans of the gas heaters for a few years. A similar kind of promotion was used by the electric utilities in Florida in the late 1940s and 1950s.

With the demise of solar development, the technology for gas and electric heaters improved. Electricity and gas became standard, solar energy as exotic, and increasingly nonexistent, alternative. As people became locked into their electric and gas system, the utilities could raise their prices. The effect of the energy company action was virtually to eliminate the development of solar energy, lock users into fossil-fuel systems, and accelerate our depletion of those fuels.” (Goodman, 1979)

I find interesting that the Home Depot, close of where I live, they have a big banner by the highways that says Go Solar.

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One Response to “The Short Life of Solar Energy (Goodman, 1979)”


  1. […] Goodman, Robert, (1979) The last entrepreneurs : America’s regional wars for jobs and dollars [In the book he refers to the local and state government workers, and how they act as bad entrepreneurs. I quoted him here once talking about energy] […]


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