Towards a Solar Powered Appalachia

Twelve years ago, I wrote a short 3-part series at Wired.com that focused on the disconnect between Appalachia and emerging technologies, particularly broadband access and high-tech business development.

The crux of the issue was that rural counties far away from the national highway system had nearly no access to universal high-speed broadband coverage, which meant a dearth of high-tech businesses (both homegrown and external). This lack of access nearly ensured that Appalachians would once again be left behind in discussions of a national and international economy.

The best we could hope for if that technological divide happened, I argued, was blue collar data mining jobs that required not innovative thinking but rote data entry.

Twelve years later, I still believe my basic premise is correct, however, the rapid expansion of emerging technologies such as solar energy has created more portable businesses for the region.

One emerging trend is using areas that have been strip mined to build solar farms. The company Turning Point will be installing a $250 million solar power grid in Ohio, according to Pacific Standard. The goal: use the Appalachian natural resources in a more responsible way.

Turning Point also hosts another superlative: Backers say it would be the largest photovoltaic solar farm in the United States. In addition, prairie planting tests are currently being conducted in hopes that the fallow land under the solar panels into an organic carbon sink.

The Full Belly Project in North Carolina shrank that large-sale idea down to local farmers, according to Popular Mechanics.

The company, which developed farming tools for African nations, has started deploying its solar-powered equipment to North Carolina farmers after modifying its products to better suit the needs of the Appalachians.

The result is Full Belly Project’s Solar Hand Cart, a basic water pump that can irrigate a couple of acres or provide H2O to a water trough with nothing more than a large solar panel and simple timers and pumps. A pickup truck or ATV can easily move the cart from point to point.

My Wired.com pieces:

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