Published: Monday, January 22, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 21, 2007 at 11:56 p.m.
Tom Lane entered the solar energy profession in 1977 in the midst of the nation's second oil crisis, which led to what he called a rebirth of the solar industry.
CEO and co-owner, ECS Solar Energy Systems
With a bachelor's in forestry from the University of Tennessee and a master's in education from the University of Florida, he had been teaching for a few years before going to work selling and installing solar hot water systems for Solar Energy Products in Gainesville.
He said he saw the crisis and the availability of new technology as both a business opportunity and an opportunity to make an important difference.
If the profession was being reborn when he entered, it is in a renaissance now. Concerns about the cost and availability of oil as well as the climatic effects of burning fossil fuels have increased demand for alternative renewable energy sources.
He believes the world may be heading toward an environmental catastrophe with rising ocean levels, regardless of what steps we take now. But, he said, "We've got to start trying to do something about it and trying to reverse it as much as possible."
Good intentions aside, Lane said newly enacted economic incentives from federal and state government and local utilities to convert to solar energy have had a greater effect on increasing demand.
Lane started ECS with partners in 1982 and now owns it with his wife, Shirley. Through most of ECS's history, it installed 150 solar pool heaters a year, and just a few solar electric and solar water heating systems.
With increased demand, he now expects to do 300 water systems and 50 electric systems a year. "We could do more, but there's a worldwide shortage of solar electric cells" as manufacturers have not been able to keep up with the sudden demand. His staff has increased from six to 12 installers and two to three office workers, as business was up 78 percent in 2006.
Lane is trying to do his part to keep up with demand by training the next generation of installers. He wrote "Solar Hot Water, Lessons Learned 1977 to Today," the manual for national installation certification now in its 300th edition in just five years, with updates for new technology and requirements. In March, he plans to open a training school next door to his office on SW 13th Street as a master trainer of teachers to be certified by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners.
For his work, Lane was one of two people inducted into the Solar Hall of Fame in December. The award was created by Congress in 1976. Erich Farber, former 35-year director of the Solar Energy & Energy Conversion Lab at UF, was one of four original inductees.
Another inductee with UF ties, Yogi Goswami, Farber's successor at the lab, was inducted in 1991. Goswami recently left UF for the University of South Florida.
Farber said most of the 45 inductees have been academics, but the committee, with a membership he said is a secret, wanted to honor more practitioners.
Honored with Lane was Freeman Ford of FAFCO of California, the largest solar manufacturer in the world, Farber said.
In addition to his work inside the industry, Lane is trying to increase awareness about the need for clean, renewable energy. He is working with SolarCity of Gainesville, a nonprofit group pushing for Gainesville Regional Utilities' next director to have strong solar credentials.
Lane said builders have been slow to install solar energy, something the public needs to demand.
He advocates Germany's model of providing long-term guarantees for solar energy rates and incomes to installers "so every building in town will be covered in solar panels." In addition to its environmental benefits, Germany, he said, has created 170,000 jobs.
"I feel like we need to do this for our children. We're fast approaching a point of environmental destruction and massive numbers of people are going to be out of jobs if we continue to base our economy on a petroleum-based industry."
Anthony Clark can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 374-5094.
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