Where the oil industry meets alternative energy

Marketplace Staff Aug 11, 2010

Where the oil industry meets alternative energy

Marketplace Staff Aug 11, 2010


Bill Radke: The ban on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico goes back to federal court today in New Orleans. Many, many people in the Gulf Coast depend on oil drilling to make a living. So where does that leaves alternative energy in those states? Over the next two days, Marketplace’s Krissy Clark introduces us to two people who can help us understand whether oil and alternatives can ever mix.

Krissy Clark: I first met Nolan Hart through his website, EnergyIndustryPhotos.com, where, surprise, he posts photos of oil derricks and pump jacks. Stuff he’s worked on during his 25 years in the Texas oil patch.

Nolan Hart: There is kind of a beauty to the equipment and against the sunsets.

He loves working in the oil industry. It’s earned him a good living and an appreciation for where energy comes from.

Hart: A lot of people refuse to acknowledge that oil and natural gas are what gives us the lifestyle that we enjoy. Even when you go to make a daiquiri and turn your blender on.

Which is why I wasn’t prepared when Hart mentioned in passing where the electricity for his daquiris comes from.

Hart: About half of it, or more, comes from solar panels.

Clark: What? But you worked in the oil and gas industry for 25 years.

But there they were on his house: solar panels.

Hart: You can just kind of see the edge of them. That’s a 2-kilowatt photovoltaic system on the roof.

Going solar’s actually something Hart’s wanted to do for a long time, after he lived for a year on a sailboat and relied on wind and solar energy. So when his hometown of Austin set up solar tax rebates two years ago, he went for it. And the eyebrows went up in the oil field.

Hart: I get some kidding from my coworkers sometimes: “Solar panels. Why would you do something glike that?”

They told him turning away from oil and gas toward renewables seemed like biting the hand that feeds them. But that’s not how Hart sees it.

Hart: We all need each other. For every wind turbine that’s built, there’s a smelter somewhere for aluminum, and it’s oil and gas-based energy that is building renewable energy infrastructure.

And when his coworkers poke fun at his solar panels, he reminds them:

Hart: You might not want to laugh, because you’ll probably have them on your roof, too, at some point. It all comes down to economics, and if something can be made cheaply enough and just sit up there on the roof and make free energy, why not use it?

Hart says between the worlds of black gold and green, there’s a big gray area — one that the country’s going to be living in more and more in the future.

I’m Krissy Clark for Marketplace.

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