Solar-Power Demand Rises On Y2K Fears : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

Solar-Power Demand Rises On Y2K Fears

It's a good thing. -- Diane

Posted at 8:03 p.m. PST Friday, January 8, 1999

Solar-power demand rises on Y2K fears

Houston Chronicle

HOUSTON -- Food, water and bullets are not the only things being bought by people who fear that the Y2K phenomenon will bring a societal meltdown.

Some are also buying solar-powered electrical systems.

``We used to sell one or two per month for homes. Now we are selling four or five a week and the customers are telling us it is because of Y2K,'' said Marshall Blalock Jr., president of Southwest Photovoltaic Systems of Tomball, a city of 7,000 about 20 miles northwest of downtown Houston.

``It used to be the `solar hippies' that were buying them. Now it's just normal people,'' Blalock said.

The Y2K problem stems from a computer programming practice begun more than 30 years ago. To save computing capacity, programmers used the last two digits to designate each year. For example, 1978 was written ``78.''

On the first day of next year, many fear that computers will see ``00'' and interpret it as 1900 -- causing shutdowns or malfunctions that will lead to a general breakdown in communication, transportation, general infrastructure and ultimately society.

Anticipating such a crisis, nervous people across the country have begun stockpiling food, water, clothing, fuel, medicine and other essentials. Advice on what to stock is readily available on hundreds of Internet sites offering advice on everything from beekeeping to water purification.

Government and industry officials discount the problem, saying many operations performed by computers are not related to time and year and that any glitches that arise will cause only minor inconveniences.

To ease the anxiety, the President's Council on Year 2000 has set up a toll-free line providing information on how computers, small businesses, telephones and other products and services will be affected by the new year.

The information on the line, 1-888-USA-4-Y2K, comes from government agencies, companies and industry groups reporting on what measures they are taking to prepare for 2000.

Houston Industries, parent company of Houston Lighting and Power, has been working on the problem since May 1997 and plans to spend $35 million to $40 million on it, said spokeswoman Leticia Lowe.

Lowe said HL&P has examined all computer programs and systems and made changes or replacement where needed.

``The No. 1 priority is to ensure that the production and delivery of energy is uninterrupted,'' she said. ``We feel confident that we are going to deal with this in an appropriate manner.''

Lowe said the company continuously plans for emergencies, including coal and gas stockpiling and ensuring enough HL&P employees are available to handle any situation.

She said there have been instances in the past where weather-related outages caused computers to be shut down and technicians operated the power system manually.

``We've been successful at it,'' she added.

The HL&P Web site -- -- has a section on Y2K, which notes that Jan. 1, 2000, falls on a Saturday, when electrical demand is lower.

``The electrical system will have excess generating capacity during the millennium date change to help balance any possible problem. Also, electric systems and power delivery do not rely heavily on computerized technology or digital controls,'' the site says.

Despite such precautions, many people are taking no chances on having a reliable power source. Thus, the mini-boom in solar systems.

Blalock said solar cells can generate enough power for a five-bedroom house, and systems cost from $5,000 to $25,000.

``It just depends on the (electrical) load you want to have,'' he said.

The systems are composed of solar panels that convert sunlight into electricity and feed the current into a controller, which sends it to an inverter where it is converted from direct current to alternating current for household use.

Any surplus generated power is stored in batteries that supply current for night use and times of heavy cloud cover.

Southwest Photovoltaic's marketing manager Jim Gregory said the company began noticing the trend about three months ago. He said the new customers tell them they fear that the Y2K bug will not only cause food shortages, but also a loss of electricity.

``They're hoping that it won't happen but want to be ready just in case,'' he said.

Gregory said the company has not installed any solar power systems in traditional residential neighborhoods.

``Most of them have gone in houses where people have one or two acres and big lots,'' he said.

He said many solar units have been installed in weekend cabins and mobile homes across the Texas countryside.

``They are usually set up to power a refrigerator, lights, fans and a water well,'' he said.

The trend has not been limited to Texas, according to Richard Curry, editor of Photovoltaic Insider's Report.

Curry said sales figures are unavailable but every person in the industry he has talked to has reported increases in sales of the systems for home use.

``And they are attributing those increases to Y2K,'' he said.

Meanwhile, Gregory believes the trend will continue.

``People want to be self-sufficient. They could go out and get a generator but you have to feed it fuel. With solar there is no fuel, just the sun.''

-- Diane J. Squire (, January 09, 1999



Thanks! This is one of the most productive and exciting reasons why y2k is a positive. I wish I had the resources to invest in solar.

I heard an update last night on Art Bell regarding the "free energy" device that was announced some months back. Apparently this device is still in the works and being tested. Can you imagine the world if "clean energy" was the rage and the norm?

I praise those who think out of the box!

Mike ================================================================

-- Michael Taylor (, January 09, 1999.


I'm counting on those that take the lids off the box tops. It's the only sustainable solution IMHO.

As I posted to Tom in an earlier thread, planning on studying and doing my solar homework will all the solar power stuff I picked up a couple days ago. It still keeps looking like the best back-up strategy for short and long "power" is an off-the-grid option.

Walking into the completely solar-powered retail store and demonstration grounds at Real Goods, was paradigm shifting! Still feeling awed by it.

They have an excellent print catalog company called Real Goods specializing in solar powered products, sustainable living and other renewable energy items:

They also have a physical Solar Living Center, north of San Francisco, where they demonstrate all the goods, grounds and solar powered toys:



-- Diane J. Squire (, January 09, 1999.

I first noticed business increasing 'cause of Y2K demand back in March...been a crazy and wild ride since then! One of the things I tell folks is that there are many good reasons to install a renewable energy system...wild weather, Middle East problems, Y2K (or whatever disaster is next to come down the pike!), it's good for the environment and my favorite...'cause it's neat! We run our home and business from the wind here...using a backup generator to charge our battery bank during non-windy times. It's been really nice to be independent...and with the installation of our solar array in the next few weeks, we should be able to do without the generator. And I feel as many others do that if nothing else, Y2K will help raise everyone's awareness of solar, wind and micro-hydro power. Increasing one's independence with sustainable living practices will benefit everyone...NOT just renewable energy dealers! Roy

-- Roy @ Four Winds (, January 09, 1999.

I thoroughly investigated solar before I purchased my 4kw continuous system from Atlantic Solar Products 1-410-686-2500 ext# 16 Paul Coughlin. Real Goods is an excellent company for anything dealing with independent living from solar and wind generation to Home Schooling. I have made many purchases from them. You can purchase the same exact products from Real Goods that you can from Atlantic Solar Products. What I liked about Atlantic Solar was the inverter, charge controller, fused disconnect, 220 volt transformer, 175 amp breaker, bypass switches, volt meters, bypass diodes and all the wiring comes pre assembled on an ASP board that I hang on the wall and hook to my battery bank and collectors. I also saved about $800.00 purchasing it from them. Mike

-- flierdude (, January 09, 1999.

One can only hope that increased volume will allow for price reductions due to effiency of scale in the manufacturing process.

-- Paul Davis (, January 10, 1999.

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