That Neighborhood Solar Nut is Now a Keynote Speaker

7/6/09

As a longtime advocate for sustainable building design, I have spent decades listening to people associate solar energy with ugly black boxes on the roof of the house that belonged to the neighborhood nutcase. I’m here to tell you those days are gone forever. I now find myself sharing the dais with the owners of those early solar systems. That nutcase is now a keynote speaker, and we’re finally beginning to appreciate the beauty of that vision.

Nowadays we’re bombarded with images that convey a different aesthetic of solar technology. Brilliant, elegant black solar panels gleaming in the sun against a perfect clear blue sky. Political candidates and even petroleum companies are parading their green initiatives with these beautiful images. Solar now means a sustainable future, clean energy, clean air, and a solution to global climate change. It might seem unusual, but in this case, the image matches the reality.

Historically, architects have translated new structural and functional technologies into elements of expression. We’ve done this with virtually every material we build with: stone, wood, concrete, steel, and composites. Our palate of materials has expanded throughout history for functional reasons, but as designers we use them to express shape, line, texture culture—and in the case of renewable technologies, powerful societal changes, values and aspirations. Now leaders in the architectural and construction communities are thirsting for new elements that express progressive aesthetics, elements that imbue meaning and value to the clean and sustainable energy movement.

We now have designers and architects using clean technology—solar energy, wind generator units, and other products and materials—as their preferred palate of expression. This is helping elevate early renewable energy enthusiasts to visionary status. And this contemporary connotation of clean and sustainable alternative energy is coming to your neighborhood and mine.

What needs to be understood, taught, and reinforced is that we … Next Page »

Robert Noble is the founder, chairman, and CEO of San Diego-based Envision Solar International, Inc. and Chairs the California Center for Sustainable Energy. He is an architect, environmental designer, industrial designer and environmental technology entrepreneur. Follow @

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