Solar Day, Born in San Francisco, Radiates to Dozens of Cities

After 40 years of observances, you probably know that April 22 is Earth Day. But you may not have known that tomorrow, June 19, is SolarDay. Billed by its organizers as a chance for alternative energy activists and solar energy entrepreneurs to highlight the solar technology options and government rebate and incentive programs available to consumers and businesses, the event was hatched last year in San Francisco and is expanding this year to nearly 30 cities. If it lives up to its founders’ hopes, at least 100 cities will be hosting SolarDay events in 2011.

“The biggest mission is to bring maximum exposure of solar programs to consumers,” says Addison Huegel, executive director of SolarDay. The San Francisco resident has a UC Berkeley physics degree and a background in high-tech public relations and marketing, and launched the effort in June 2009.

“Earth Day is for everything from organic gardening to recycling to batteries,” he says. “This is meant to have one day that’s focused on solar energy. There are all of these federal, state, and city programs now available to spur the industry along, and there really was no day to generate awareness of that.”

In San Francisco, the main SolarDay event will be an open house at Dosa Restaurant, the highly rated Fillmore Street destination for South Indian cuisine. Dosa is a “super-green” establishment whose owners hired Berkeley, CA-based Sun Light & Power to install a closed-loop solar water heating system. Over tea and cookies, says Huegel, visitors will have a chance to learn about incentive programs that can defray the cost of such systems.

There will also be SolarDay events in 11 other California cities, including Alhambra, Chico, Fort Bragg, Hayward, Little River, Redding, Richmond, Riverside, Roseville, San Diego, and Santa Rosa. Five cities in Arizona are participating, and SolarDay events are planned as well in Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio, and Tennessee. There’s even an event in Cairo, Egypt: a garden exhibition, concert, and screening of the NOVA episode “Saved by the Sun” hosted by Donya Desee, an environmental events management company that also operates the website Eco Options Egypt.

As an energy source, solar is caught in the same bind as many other alternative energy options: capturing it to make electricity or hot water is still more expensive than burning coal or natural gas (assuming, of course, that you don’t count the costs of minor externalities like global warming). That means the industry needs subsidies to survive—and a growing number of incentives are available. “There are a lot of groups, especially the federal and state governments, realizing that … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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