Oh me-o my-o, Cleveland, Ohio

2008 is almost upon us. As we close out the year, we’d like to share reflections and some ideas for surging the sun in the year ahead. Here is a perspective from this year’s American Solar Energy Society conference, held in Cleveland, OH. It’s being held in San Diego this year – May 3-8. In fact the two largest solar conferences in the nation (ASES and SEPA/SEIA) are both being held in San Diego this year…help make 2008 a surging year for the sun! Put these events on your calendar.

Story submitted by Alex Kizer

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Driving through downtown Cleveland, Ohio for the American Solar Energy Society (ASES) convention, last July, I couldn’t help but notice the decomposing warehouses, standing vacantly among the boroughs of the gentrified districts of the “Mistake on the Lake.” I was passing by the stage where many steel workers presented their empty plea to future-looking authorities; the ensuing death that inevitably destroyed the antiquated industry of the past shined today in the presence of my brand-new hotel.

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My grandfather, born and raised in Cleveland, was one such loser in this battle with the “Technology Age.” Invisible hands have actually brought impending unemployment to both my grandfathers, but that’s the beauty of capitalism, right? In all truthfulness, that’s correct. Regardless of our forefathers’ exclamations, such as, “You can’t find a shoe made within the continental United States, anywhere!” this is the way things work in our globalized world. I have to ignore it when my grandfather calls and asks, “Where can I get an American-made television? Our Sony is busted and Walmart only has Samsung in stock.” I never have the heart to tell him there’s no escaping international trade.

Having the solar energy convention in Cleveland is exactly what the former proprietors of Cleveland had in mind when they put an axe to their industrial economy. “Someday,” they might have said over cocktails at a local aristocratic dinner, “the sons and daughters of the bone-broke factory men and women will thank us. They will be able to discuss alternative resources as plausible supplements to an economy that needs to go in that direction, anyway. Also, they will be able to buy Japanese TVs at discount prices.” Or they’d say something similar to that tune.

It’s sad to say but they were right. Cleveland—much like I hope for the rest of America—was able to effectively cut their losses when it came to the costly economic dead weight of the steel industry; an industry that was physically dangerous for workers and extremely costly to run when compared to the low-cost of steel imports and the high-cost of American labor. But for solar energy, the evolution I am referring to requires a little more complexity, as the dangerous and costly industries that I’m suggesting (oil and coal) have permeated American and global life even further than the omnipotent steel industry. The oil and coal industries are, without a doubt, economic juggernauts with seemingly infinite resources around the world. Everything runs on, eats up, uses, and digests some form of these two resources. For America, however, a similar opinion was held by U.S. migrants less than a century ago regarding the aforementioned metal (steel). From Cleveland to San Francisco, America embodied ample land, so much land it was thought it would take centuries to lay the necessary tracks. America followed the economic path of least resistance and benefited from it resoundingly.

If Cleveland was opening its once bitter doors to an alternative energy convention, then maybe there’s hope of incorporating solar energy into our national economy on a real level. Because this year’s ASES convention wasn’t in Florida or California, but, instead, in Me-o, Oh my-o, Oh-Cleveland Ohio, the more I thought about it the more I felt satisfied with our country’s current state of events. When can someone actually say they’re participating in an event that proves that the Midwest might someday evolve economically? Well, I can.

The ASES convention exhibits the Midwest’s openness to the technologies “of the future.” Even though I embody the enemy of my grandfathers—Idealists, who at one time were, as my grandfather put it, “trying to move American jobs to Outer Space”—I am beaming to see if the economic evolution of Cleveland is, in fact, a microcosm for the potential evolution of our economy on the national scale. If a large Midwest city can open its doors to a new type of resource; if a people surrounded by their fallen industry can accept their evolving economy as a must; and if non-progressive citizens recognize their current oil and coal consuming trajectory as problematic to America’s power (both home and abroad), then I am optimistic that our economy can evolve and incorporate alternative energy solutions in the same way that Cleveland left steel for something more safe and more effective. Parking my car in the lot, I walked up the underground tarmac to find the Cleveland Convention center and then my businesses’ (Solar Resource Corp.) booth. I was excited to see if others had come to the same conclusion as I had.

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Before I stepped into the convention center building, I stopped and looked at a gigantic wind turbine that sits before the convention center on the Lake’s side. Watching the long white blades swipe across the tall blue sky, I couldn’t help but wonder why Cleveland was so frequently referred to as the “Mistake on the Lake.”

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