Solar Day in Salt Lake City powers through clouds
There were politicians and inventors, engineers and educators, community organizers, parents, children and several dogs.
But one guest was noticeably absent from Solar Day: the sun.
Masses of grey clouds rolled across the sky Saturday, hardly breaking for long enough to let a beam of sunlight through. But the weather did little to darken the moods of Solar Day organizers, who said their event, which was powered entirely by solar energy, went off without a hitch.
"We love the sun every day a little sprinkle, a little cloud cover, we can still get energy on a day like this," said event organizer Alan Naumann, gesturing to a giant solar panel at the front of the festival. "Solar energy is green, it's affordable and it's all around us, all the time."
Utah ranks near the middle-bottom of the country in solar energy production. Its renewable energy sources trail those of neighboring states in the west. In order to move the state forward, Naumann said, the citizens need to be know what's missing, how it's impacting the state and what they can do to help.
Solar Day attendees listened as vendors explained solar panels, demonstrated solar-powered water heaters and ovens and showed off electric cars and bicycle alternatives.
Many said they were drawn to the event because energy conservation is important to them, but they didn't know how to incorporate renewable energy into their everyday lives.
Russ Benson, who carried a cloth green bag full of pamphlets and information, said he's considering harnessing solar energy to power his home. But before coming to Solar Day, he wasn't sure where to start.
"I'm glad to know there's so much interest in creating this kind of independent energy in the state," said Benson, who lives in the Salt Lake Valley. "It's no pie in the sky; this is something people are doing right now. This is something that Utah can do right now."
John Conde, a designer for Alpenglow Solar, which is handling the community solar project in Summit County, said the biggest hurdle for solar power to overcome is information, or a lack thereof.
"For most people, solar energy is daunting," Conde said. "They don't understand it. They can't see it. It just doesn't make the same kind of sense to them. That's why education and public outreach is so important."
Less than 1 percent of the energy produced in Utah comes from solar power. Combined with wind, and geothermal power sources, it makes up about 3 percent of the state's energy production, according to Utah's 10-year strategic energy plan.
That's not good enough, said Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City.
"You don't have to burn fossil fuels to generate energy," Briscoe told a small crowd at Solar Day's opening. "There is a direct correlation between burning fossil fuels and health problems. ... We need to start moving toward a greener future and cleaner air."
Briscoe joined Salt Lake City Sustainability Director Vicki Bennett and Susan Soleil, director of Interfaith Power and Light, to discuss some of the solar energy projects across the state.
They pointed to churches installing solar panels on roofs, university buses running on electricity rather than diesel fuel, and the new public safety building in Salt Lake City, which promises to be generate as much energy as it uses.
According to SEIA, the Solar Energy Industries Association, Utah has more than 32 companies who do work in the solar energy sector. The state ranks 28th in the country in solar energy installation, which yields enough energy to power 800 homes.
"It's so important to be here and plant the seeds of renewable energy," said Stephanie Alexander, spokeswoman for Via Motors, an electric car company based in Orem, UT. "A lot of other states are ahead of us right now in producing renewable energy, but there are so many people here who care about pushing Utah forward. That's why we're here today, to promote change."