Who Knew: The Amish Love That Fancy Solar Technology

Amish farm with a house and several buildings on a hillside

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You gotta hand it to the Amish: though they have yet to adopt modern conveniences like cars and electricity, they are way ahead of the curve when it comes to that new-fangled solar technology. Holmes County, Ohio, which is known for having the world's largest Amish population, is already a hot bed of solar power: an estimated 80% of Amish families have embraced the use of photovoltaic panels.

Solar power has become the de facto replacement for electricity in appliances that run the gamut from sewing machines to light batteries on their horse-drawn buggies. The Amish primarily decided to adopt solar technology for both safety concerns (gas lamps = fire hazard) and out of legal requirements (the law requires the presence of electric lights on horse-drawn buggies). It also allows them to continue living in isolation from the rest of American society by staying unplugged.Until now, the Amish had relied on a mix of diesel generators and windmills to power their conventional utilities and appliances. The advent of photovoltaic panels provided a cheaper and more efficient alternative. In an interesting twist, modernist, environmentally-conscious advocacy groups like Green Energy Ohio have even begun turning to the Amish solar model for innovative alternative energy solutions.

"The Amish appear to have skipped the 20th century in a sense," said Bill Spratley, the executive director of Green Energy Ohio. "They are using technology most of us consider advanced -- and they're considered the plain people! I think we can always learn something from people who may not have all the high technology we're inundated with. It certainly shows energy independence can be done, and done in this climate."

While some more traditionalist Amish families refuse to use it, many have become avid solar energy adherents, arguing that it fits into their self-sufficiency model of life: it's cheap, convenient, safe and doesn't spew fumes. "There's so much free sun and free air, and if we could harness it, we wouldn't need any more power plants," said Andrew Hertzler, an Amish farmer selling flowers and plants and solar user.