I really want my urban D.C. row house to be as naturally powered as possible. But I’m lacking in both the finances and the DIY skills to make it so. This puts me in the position of a “beach-chair activist” when it comes to solar power. I read all the cool new solar developments with envy and dream of a day I can at least feel the sun in my shower.
I’m also hoping that my Columbia Heights neighborhood will start a solar panel cooperative (like they’ve done in Mount Pleasant, D.C.). And I want the U.S. to catch up at least with Europe in saving the planet. (I have a lot of desires.)
The harnessing of solar energy is expanding on every front as concerns about climate change and energy security escalate, as government incentives for harnessing solar energy expand, and as these costs decline while those of fossil fuels rise. One solar technology that is really beginning to take off is the use of solar thermal collectors to convert sunlight into heat that can be used to warm both water and space.
China, for example, is now home to 27 million rooftop solar water heaters. With nearly 4,000 Chinese companies manufacturing these devices, this relatively simple low-cost technology has leapfrogged into villages that do not yet have electricity. For as little as $200, villagers can have a rooftop solar collector installed and take their first hot shower. This technology is sweeping China like wildfire, already approaching market saturation in some communities. Beijing plans to boost the current 114 million square meters of rooftop solar collectors for heating water to 300 million by 2020.
The energy harnessed by these installations in China is equal to the electricity generated by 49 coal-fired power plants. Other developing countries such as India and Brazil may also soon see millions of households turning to this inexpensive water heating technology. This leapfrogging into rural areas without an electricity grid is similar to the way cell phones bypassed the traditional fixed-line grid, providing services to millions of people who would still be on waiting lists if they had relied on traditional phone lines. Once the initial installment cost of rooftop solar water heaters is paid, the hot water is essentially free.
Well, it’s happened. The famous line from the musical Hello, Dolly! has come true. “Money is like manure. It’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread about, encouraging young things to grow.”
Not only is President Obama spreading ‘Bama Bucks like night soil on the languorous fields of the American economy, but Mrs. Obama is getting her hands dirty with a little Victory gardening of her own.
The kids from Bancroft elementary school — located in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood, one over from Columbia Heights — digging and turning up the White House “back 40” (aka the South Lawn). The planting list includes: spinach, broccoli, various lettuces, kale, collard greens, assorted herbs, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries.
For some reason, they are not planting corn. No doubt White House insiders will uncover the reason soon. My guess is that Big Corn exerted some influence here and didn’t want average citizens getting the idea that they could crowd in on AgriBusinesses profit share.
Another interesting tidbit is that the White House garden is also planning to host some bee hives and, as Mrs. Obama said, “grow their own honey.” This is great news! But someone needs to let them know that currently it is illegal to keep bees inside the District. They are considered “livestock” by the District agriculture code. While I’m sure that the White House falls under a federal law, not District law, I’m hoping the hives on the South Lawn will bring a big boost to the renegade bee-keeping revolution that’s been quietly raging in the District over the past few years. Maybe the apiarists can finally come out of the shadows.
For many years, I’ve enjoyed this tradition of the Park Regent Apartments at the intersection of Park Road and Mt. Pleasant Street in Washington, D.C. From the buildings prime location, the owners hang bright blue banners with the word for peace emblazoned in white font in a dozen different languages.
Out of pure curiosity, I called the Park Regent Apartments to ask about the history of hanging these peace banners. The very helpful property manager, Art Buildman, told me:
“We’ve been doing this for the eight years that I’ve been around here. I’ve been hanging them myself for the last three years. I don’t really know how it got started. I think maybe the Mount Pleasant Citizens Association suggested it. We usually put them up sometime before Christmas and take them down in January. We’ve got a larger size banner that says ‘peace’ in English, but I’m afraid to hang it because I’m afraid I’ll damage the roof by attaching it. I don’t dare hang any longer ones, because of the wind. There used to be banners in red, but we can’t find those. I’ve got a picture of the red banners here in the office that you are welcome to come by and see. “
Personally, I remember seeing longer ones hung from the Park Regent in the 1990s, then there were several years when they didn’t hang them at all. But now the tradition seems firmly back in place. And they now hang them on both buildings in the Park Regent complex. It used to be that they hung only on the building right at the corner. The Mount Pleasant Historical Society says this about the Park Regent (See more about historic Mount Pleasant.):
In 1910 the Park Regent was constructed at the intersection of Park Road and Mount Pleasant Street. The buff brick U-shaped building is imaginatively sited on its difficult trapezoidal site through the extension of one wing. A bold bracketed cornice and paneled brickwork crown the Beaux-Arts style building.
Below are a few more photos of the Park Regent by local photographers: