In a place where clotheslines outnumber power lines and the people prefer horse-drawn buggies to automobiles, Pennsylvania's Amish community has begun to embrace a new technology that mainstream culture has been slow to endorse: solar energy.
The Amish Church generally forbids any connection to the outside world, which includes tapping into the public utility grid. While they do not reject technology outright, they believe outside influences threaten the welfare of their small, closely-knit communities.
Don Kraybill, a professor of Anabaptist atudies at Elizabethtown College, has researched the Amish community for 25 years. He says the Amish "selectively use technology that fits into their philosophy and their religious way of life. So in a sense with solar, they are tapping into God's grid."
While solar technology is new, their use of electricity is not. The Amish community has long used electricity from diesel generators and pre-charged batteries. But solar energy offers a cleaner and ultimately cheaper alternative. The energy is essentially free after solar panel installation.
Kraybill added, "it's more affordable and they have technicians in their own communities that are learning how to use it."
Ben Zook is one such technician. He was raised Amish and started Belmont Solar about seven years ago. His company installs solar energy systems for both for Amish and non-Amish customers.
Zook said his business is catching on in the community.
"The number one reason for Amish to use solar is to power their buggy lights," said Zook. He noted that solar water heaters have also become popular among the Amish.
Mainstream society has begun to use solar technology as part of a "green" movement to lessen its dependence on other energy sources. For the Amish, it's about preserving their independence.
"In a sense with solar, they are tapping into God's grid."
Prof. Don Kraybill"(The Amish) haven't particularly embraced it for the image or anything. If you are off-grid, it just makes a lot of sense," said Zook.
"With solar, they don't see a problem with it being inconsistent with their world view," Kraybill said. "It is interesting that ... an avant-garde technology really fits into their old regulations."
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