How far behind are Canada and the United States? How about these for eye-opening statistics:
Solar collectors on the roof of an apartment block in Xian, China. Image by Richard Chambers
- A solar water heater in China costs less than $200. Without one, a family wanting hot water would have to buy an electric water heater for about the same price and pay up to $120 per year for electricity. The payback is almost instantaneous.
- By relying on the sun, the citizens of Rizhao have cut carbon dioxide emissions by almost 53 thousand tons per year. Air quality has remained much better than in most urban areas of China, luring foreign investors and increasing tourism.
- Experts project that by 2010 the number of solar water heaters installed in China will equal the thermal equivalent of the electrical capacity of 40 large nuclear power plants. Globally, solar water heaters have the capacity to produce as much energy as more than 140 nukes.
These stunning solar statistics and many more fascinating facts can be found here.
The real question is, why aren't we also leaders in this area? Where is our Made-at-Home solution? Perhaps the answer is contained in a study from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), which points out that "many barriers and fossil-fuel subsidies" are hampering the switch to a green economy. Here in my province, so-called 'green' British Columbia, for example, despite the recent budget that contained a revenue-neutral carbon tax, that same budget also gave over three hundred million dollars to the oil and gas industries annually.
Suppose that same money had gone to solar water heaters? (Which can also be used to provide radiant heating for homes.) Even at $1,000 per heater, that's 300,000 solar hot water heaters per year that the government could be giving to people. If the government just subsidised them, far more would be available at a price that would make oil, gas, or electric heating look just foolish and wasteful. And that's just BC, population about four million. Every household could have a free solar hot water heater in no time!
Are we going to shift to a new green economy? Are our governments serious about about reducing costs and increasing energy independence for all of us? Judge them by their actions, but I think it's clear: If they were, they'd be promoting Made-Here solar hot water heaters.
Note: I am also a Green Party politician in Canada. I went Green because of my disgust and complete lack of faith in the mainstream parties to do the right thing. I have also posted this article in my Green Party blog: http://www.greenparty.ca/en/node/3967. And since I joined the Greens, we are now polling in third place federally, tied with the NDP and ahead of the Bloc...so the Greens are now becoming mainstream...and there is hope. :)
Brian Gordon is a Canadian Green Party member and candidate trained by Al Gore to present An Inconvenient Truth.