Irregular Times logoOnline Off the Grid: The Internet Goes Solar

This January, I was searching for a host for a new business web site I'm putting together this Spring (a host is a company that holds all the computer files that make up a web site and makes them available to people on the Internet). The trouble with finding a web site host is that there are a huge number of hosting companies and not very much to distinguish them. Oh, they offer different software packages, and have slightly different prices, but the truth is that most hosting companies are alike. Web site hosting has become a commodity, like soy beans, and where the price for the product is close to uniform wherever you look for it.

Given the lack of differentiation between ordinary web hosts, I decided that I would search for hosting company that was outside the ordinary. Of course, I wanted a good kind of out-of-the-ordinary company, so I went over to Care2, a place that offers a whole bunch of environmentally-related online services, to see what I could find. Soon enough, I made my way to Care2's Co-Op America Green Pages, a kind of online yellow pages for companies that operate with a progressive philosophy or sell progressive products and services.

Sure enough, I found a few web hosts there, but AISO.net stood out to me for one reason: Solar power. AISO is one hundred percent powered by the rays of the sun. No dirty energy is used to run their computers, light their offices, or even make their coffee.

Alternative energy is a big deal to me, because I know how serious the problems of air and water pollution really are. Where I live, in Upstate New York, we can't even eat the fish we catch in Lake Ontario. It's all full of Mercury. I live way out in the country, amidst farmland a good hour's drive outside of any city in the winter. Yet, the air I breathe is filled with a smog that's as dangerous as that found in many cities. This pollution comes from coal-burning power plants in Midwestern states, coal-burning plants that the Bush Administration is allowing to avoid legally-mandated clean-ups.

We don't need to focus on future global warming in order to worry about the state of our environmental health. The problem is here, now, and the Republican leadership of the country seems determined to make the problem worse, not better. Now is the time when Americans have got to take environmental leadership into our own hands, by being more selective about the dirty energy fingerprints of the products and services they buy. We're all responsible, for cleaning our air and water, or for cooperating with the corporations that seek to foul the land in the name of profit.

So, it was a relief for me to find that it's no longer necessary to subsidize dirty energy in order to get a web site up and running. The problem was that I had never heard the slightest bit of news that solar powered web hosting even existed. So, in addition to getting my new web site solar-powered, I wanted to talk to someone at AISO, so that I could get information about their alternative energy operation available for broader consumption.

The following is a transcript of the interview that followed, with Phil, an extremely helpful and friendly guy at AISO.net. I encourage you to drop him a line and find out more for yourself.


I see on your web page that you are a solar-powered business. What does that mean, exactly?

We have 120 solar panels that actually generate our electricity for our data center and our offices, and what it does is power all of our business here.

Are you connected at all to the traditional power grid?

Only in case of emergencies, in case the solar power goes down. But, we've been solar for about a year-and-a-half now, and it's been flawless.

The classic question I remember from the Seventies is: What happens when the skies get cloudy?

Well, what happens when the skies get cloudy is that we don't generate quite as much energy. Our solar panels go across four inverters, and those inverters then charge more than four thousand pounds of batteries that keep us online. You have the four thousand pounds of batteries that you can tap into when the sun doesn't shine.

What provoked you to change over to solar power?

Well, we wanted to be able to do something that was better for the environment, so this was the best solution for us.

So the environment was really your prime motivation?

Yes.

What about the business implications of going solar? What are those for you?

That has really been a very big plus for us. We've picked up clients as far away as Switzerland, just for the very simple fact that we are solar.

People talk about the cost of solar power. How are you doing with that cost, and how will you make up your initial investment?

Well, we're making back the initial investment through the number of clients that we're bringing on that are environmentally friendly.

So, you've seen a significant change in the number of clients that are coming in?

Absolutely.

What about the reaction from the business class in general? What kind of reactions do you have, either from your older clients, or the general business community that you work with?

Our clients absolutely love it. One of our clients actually did a major press release, they were so excited about it. Another client of ours, they actually film Imax movies worldwide. They're a billion dollar corporation, and they were extremely impressed with this. Therefore, they put our stuff on all of their web sites.

What about friends and family, other people you know? What kinds of things did they say when they found out you were doing this?

Most people thought that it was a good idea. People looked at the investment, but overall, we had a very good reaction to it.

Have you had any strong criticism at all?

As far as negative goes, not at all.

What caused you to choose solar power over other forms of alternative energy, like wind?

We don't have the wind, with powerful breezes that are necessary to generate power here.

What advice do you have for other businesses that would like to go solar, but they're a bit hesitant or they don't know how to go about it?

I think it's a great solution. I would highly recommend it, to find their own solutions. Just run a search online or find a local solar company in the phone book that they can contact to get more information.

What do you think is keeping other businesses from going solar?

It is a huge cost, initially. I think that has a lot to do with it. I also think that a lot of people don't know. They're not educated enough about solar and what it can do for them.

How can that change?

I think there needs to be more incentives that will be able to help the small businesses go solar. There's not enough tax incentives to do that.

What about the future of alternative energy? Where do you see it going in the next ten to fifteen years?

I think that there will definitely be a lot more businesses using solar or wind technologies, or other new technologies that are going to be available. The technologies are really changing in our time. It's getting more cost-effective. We're looking forward to that. It's a good investment, and we think it's good for our environment. It's good for everybody. I highly recommend it.



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