Friday, November 16, 2007

The Amish Champions of solar technology

When thinking of technologically advanced societies pushing the envelope on alternative energy, the Amish of rural Middle America are about the last group that come to mind. Yet the conservative Christian religious sect known for their plain dress and abhorrence for modern conveniences such as automobiles and electricity is embracing solar power.

In Holmes County, Ohio, home to the world’s largest Amish community, an estimated 80% of Amish families now have photovoltaic panels. They use solar power for basic electrical needs like home lighting, powering sewing machines, and charging batteries for lights on horse-drawn buggies. The Amish have gone solar partly for safety concerns - gas lamps are a fire hazard - and partly out of legal requirements - transportation codes require electric lights on horse-drawn buggies. Another reason they are embracing solar power is to avoid connecting to the electric grid, something they feel would endanger their efforts to remain separated from the rest of American society.

Amish communities have previously relied on diesel generators and windmills to provide limited amounts of electricity. Recent advances in solar technology, however, have made photovoltaic panels an attractive alternative.

And in an unusual turn of events, green techies, including the advocacy group Green Energy Ohio, are now looking to what many once considered a technologically backward community for alternative energy innovations. Green Energy will showcase local Amish solar systems at the upcoming American Solar Energy Society annual conference in Cleveland, Ohio in July.

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