A significant portion of the pollutants generated by humans is the direct result of our ground- and ocean-based transportation, burning diesel fuel and gasoline, and our coal-fired power plants, generating electricity. If we could successfully convert all of our cars, trucks, trains, and ships to run on electricity, and find a cleaner and safer source of electricity than coal, then the ecological gains could be enormous, and with time the environment could gradually heal itself by absorbing the residual carbon pollutants.
Yet reliable, eco-friendly, and large-scale sources of electricity still seem beyond our reach. Natural gas power plants are cleaner than their coal counterparts, but still require a resource whose supply is limited and declining. Nuclear power plants are quite efficient, but require another limited resource, uranium, and generate radioactive waste, as well as political friction (and fiction). Wind turbines and wave energy sources are renewable, but can harm and even kill wildlife, and have been blocked by federal and state bureaucrats (who claim to be pro-environment).
While biofuels, wind, geothermal, and other alternative energy sources are important, in the long run, the only source of energy sizable enough to power all of mankind's needs on earth, would be an enormous nuclear reactor. If only there were a constant and reliable source of power that generates, in a single hour, all the energy needed by humans for an entire year, with no carbon emissions.
Well, there is such a source, and it makes all life on Earth possible. It is of course the sun, and we have still barely tapped its potential for electricity.
Admittedly, solar panels are seeing increasing innovation by engineers and use by consumers. But the levels of efficiency — converting sunlight to electrical power — are still quite low. Even worse, widespread use of solar panels throughout the United States is constantly stymied by civic and residential resistance, especially from homeowners association tyrants more interested in short-term property values than long-term sustainable living values. Solar cells of even the greatest possible efficiency will be useless if their deployment throughout the American suburbs are blocked by an army of HOA busybodies.
When people think of solar cells, what comes to mind are the large and not particularly attractive solar panels that are attached to a hillside, or to racks bolted to a commercial building (thereby invalidating the roofing warranty). These solar modules are designed and sold with the producer in mind, and not the real world customer, who has to deal with roof leaks, homeowners associations, etc.
All that may change, through the efforts of Open Energy Corporation, a company located in San Diego County that is developing renewable energy technologies — including solar roof tiles that can blend seamlessly with the exteriors of residential homes and the designs of commercial buildings. Boosting likely acceptance, the tiles are rated not as solar panels, but instead as UL-certified fire-rated weatherproof building materials. Thus they can be installed by a conventional roofing contractor, and do not require solar panel specialists. Better still, at least in San Diego County, if your new home plan includes an integrated solar system, then your project goes to the front of the zoning and permitting queue.
In fact, the tiles integrate so well with a conventional roof that they can actually be difficult to discern… until the (reduced) electricity bill arrives!