Back when I lived in Portland, rainy weekends (and even a number of sunny weekends) were spent perusing the shelves at Powell's, attending a reading or other literary event, or sipping coffee with friends in the café. When I was asked to write for the Powell's blog, I couldn't believe my luck: Here was another opportunity to connect with my favorite bookstore on the planet, all the way from my home deep in the Colorado mountains.
As a journalist, I've written about many different topics over the years, from human pheromones to architecture. When my publisher, Gibbs Smith, asked for a book about solar energy, I jumped at the chance to contribute to the growing list of books that aim to motivate folks to look to the sun for their energy needs. The result is Turn Me On: 100 Easy Ways to Use Solar Energy. We liked the "1 to 100" approach — it was straightforward and, we imagined, would appeal to a variety of consumers, from those just beginning their foray into solar education to readers already savvy about ways to harness the boundless energy of sunlight.
It was with great pleasure that I opened the Summer 2009 issue of Columbia, the magazine of my alma mater, Columbia University, to find inspiring news about the solar energy industry. Despite great strides in solar technology, today's panels are capable of converting only about 15 percent of captured sunlight into usable electricity. Recently, the U.S. Department of Energy awarded Columbia University researchers a five-year, $16 million grant to find ways to increase the efficiency of solar cells. Some 15 professors, led by chemist Louis Brus, physicist Tony Heinz, and electrical engineer James Yardley, will focus their efforts on the creation of solar cells that use the manmade semiconductor graphene in place of silicon, the latter of which tends to absorb precious sunlight that could instead be used for power. With the grant, Columbia became one of 46 new DOE-funded Energy Frontier Research Centers working on renewable energy.
I'm proud of my school, and equally proud of everyone taking the time to learn about clean-energy technology. With our new administration already fulfilling its promise to support renewables, our future is indeed looking very bright.