Seizing a Sungazing Syzygy
Use the hook of sungazing to update Hoosiers on solar energy opportunities and convey how the sun is integral to Earth’s well-being.
Okay, astronomers, the topic is the sun.
Humans have long celebrated the life-giving energy the sun bestows. We tell stories of cultures celebrating the return of the sun after the December solstice, or of the return of the sun after a solar eclipse. Those earlier cultures knew what they were talking about —the sun is key to our well-being, and it’s true now as much as it was then. Today, the sun’s energy is a lifeline for a society that craves electricity but needs to take a collective Hippocratic oath to do no more harm to earth.
I encourage you sungazers engaging the public, whether observing sunspots or the total eclipse, to speak rightly of the sun’s gifts to us. When you tell the story of the sun, highlight the sun’s accessible plasma and the value the sun’s electrons deliver to our globe, with the same zeal we planetarians speak about the space program and its windfalls. Use the hook of sungazing to update Hoosiers on solar energy opportunities.
Since this is an Indiana state meeting, I want to share the status of solar energy in Indiana. In the simplest terms, the Indiana Statehouse is not friendly to solar energy.
But first, I have a question for you. If you accept—or at least consider—the high bar to meet climate targets by 2050, how much solar energy is expected to be part of our renewal energy mix?
According to a US Dept. of Energy Solar Futures Study, we need a surface equal to 0.5% of the total US land area--(one half of one percent). That’s over 15,000 square miles of rooftop and industrial-scale solar arrays spread across the country. To get an idea of how much land that is, imagine if you had a giant ball of string here in the Carmel HS Planetarium, which is nearly aligned down the middle of the state. Ask Keith Turner to hold one end of the string while you walk either east or west and unroll the ball of string until you reach the Indiana border—say, east near Richmond, IN, or west to Terre Haute, IN.
Then, with Keith holding tightly onto one end of your 70-mile length of string at the Carmel Planetarium, you swing an arc to make a circle the width of the state. That’s about how much surface area needs to be covered in solar panels to meet the 2050 goals.
With Indiana being unfriendly to solar, how do we planetarians help get there?
To keep this focused, I want to suggest one Indiana solar policy for you to keep an eye on. This is intended to be apolitical advocacy for a better Indiana future, a vision you can share while you and your audience are witnessing/feeling/embracing(!) the sun's radiation at your solar event. The solar energy policy I’m talking about is called Community Solar.
You will meet Hoosiers who still believe in doing the right thing—people who want to change our energy trajectory, in part by embracing solar energy. Community solar in Indiana allows a diverse group of people to all go in together to buy some solar panels nearby if they can’t build an array by themselves. In return, they’d get a reduction on their electric bill that reflects their investment in the project.
Who would benefit from real community solar?
People who rent or who don’t own a roof. Do you know any Hoosier who rents?
People who can’t invest large sums of money up front or for a long term.
People who live where it’s shady, or people who have HOA restrictions.
People who have historically been denied the right to do the best thing for their own health and well being. They would benefit from community solar.
People who want grid resiliency. If a group of private investors spend their own money on community solar to build a solar array, it’s just that much less capacity all the rest of us ratepayers have to build to meet peak demand.
Churches and schools and planetariums would benefit. Do you know anyone whose school or church or planetarium could use a new revenue stream?
In general, community solar benefits people who want a lower electric bill. Anyone?
Hoosiers want to act on climate with the urgency the challenges demand. And that bright giant sphere of fusion in the sky is openly pouring its goodness upon us.
So if you hear about Community Solar in the future, please perk up. Pay attention to and be critical of the arguments being made on both sides. Then act on your values, your critical thinking, your common sense, and your awe of the sun.
In conclusion, when sungazing, share with your audience the sun’s life-supporting gifts. Sungazing is a great time to propel our state toward a brighter, more equitable and more sustainable future.
Great Lakes Planetarium Association (GLPA) Indiana State Meeting
2023 October 28