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US High Tech Leaders Push Solar Power Business


Climate change is now a popular topic. World leaders are discussing it this week at the G8 summit in Prague. And just last week in San Jose, California, high tech industry leaders gathered to give solar energy a boost. The global warming issue definitely is hot, and as VOA's Jim Fry reports this year's attention could translate into money.

Vocalist Johnny Borrell of the British rock group Razorlight is recording a new climate change song at the only solar powered studio in Europe. He says he is inspired by Al Gore. The former U.S. Vice President warned Congress in March when he told them, "And our world faces a true planetary emergency."

Gore's documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth", helped make human induced climate change a glitzy issue. The film won an Academy award and has gotten a lot of attention.

But is climate change now good business?

The St. Francis of Assisi School in London is the first of 100 schools across Britain that will be fitted with solar technology.

And in Palo Alto, California, the sun powers all the townhouses in a development that opened just last month. Stephanie Pruitt, of Warmington Homes, says, "It will create significant cost savings in electricity bills for homeowners. And we do see this as the wave of the future."

Nearby, the Silicon Valley area hopes to take the lead in the solar power industry.

High tech businesspeople here once pioneered the computer industry. Now people, such as solar electric entrepreneur Tom McCalmont, are tackling a number of tough issues. "Things like building permits, utility interconnection standards, assuring that we have a trained work force. All of these are issues and as we tackle them we will proliferate the size of the market and the technology."

Solar power is a $15 billion global industry. Not huge, but the Solar Energy Industries Association in the U.S. says the business is expanding by 40 percent each year. Businessman Alan Gartner says it is striving to meet the needs of the market. "I do not think I would be here unless I thought our company was wildly capable of morphing and changing and meeting whatever the needs of the energy market are."

Industry leaders say they still need assistance from national governments. In the U.S., the push is to extend tax credits.

But the development in Palo Alto is attracting energy-conscious consumers. One consumer said, "Even if it was a little more expensive, which I do not think it was, it is going to pay for itself with the energy savings every month."

Twenty two of the 28 units put on sale in Palo Alto last month sold in the first week. That should encourage the Silicon Valley business people.

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