solar hero | profiling the unsung solar champions
Veteran Transitions from War to Renewable Energy Revolution
JEFFERY OWENS | mIssOurI
by TErrI STEELE
On Nov. 13, 2001 — two months after the deadliest
foreign attack on domestic soil — Jeffrey Owens
enlisted in the U.S. Army. It
was shortly after his 30th
birthday. “I wasn’t looking
for a career, I just wanted to
serve,” he recalls. He enlisted
as a combat engineer and
After two tours in Iraq,
service in Western Europe
and domestic duty as an
Individual Ready Reservist,
the Iraqi war veteran has
equipped himself with an
arsenal of lessons to fuel a
After two tours in Iraq, Army
vet Jeffrey Owens is working
to boost solar adoption with
his nonprofit, Show Me Solar.
r own Solar Hero:
Terri Steele is a San Diego-based marketing and
devoted to evangelizing the
benefits of solar technologies
and initiatives for both public
and private sector interests.
She is a regular speaker at
the Solar Success! training at
the American Solar Energy
Society’s National Solar Conference and, for three years,
has driven publicity efforts
for ASES’ National Solar Tour.
Email her at solarsavvy@cox.
net or follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/solarsavvy.
new tour of duty.
Owens’ current mission is to educate those who’ve
not had his experience overseas on the critical nature
of United States energy independence. And, via his role
as executive director of Missouri-based Show Me Solar
( showmesolar.org), he aims to facilitate the adoption of solar energy solutions here and in his second home in Puerto
Rico, where he lives with his new bride, Natalia.
His message for Americans focuses on national security. America consumes 25 percent of the world’s oil supply
but holds only 3 percent of the world’s oil reserves.
“The United States exports $24 billion a month to
foreign nations — many of them hostile to American
democratic principles — to sate our appetite for oil,”
Owens notes. “Domestic generation not only creates
clean, renewable alternatives, it keeps that money from
falling into the hands of those who may not always have
America’s best interests at heart.”
Owens’ interest in renewable energy took seed in Iraq,
where he came to realize that conflict over energy re-
sources appeared to be at the root of many of the region’s
In many respects, the oil wells of Iraq were the coveted
trophies of both insurgents and those defending the
interests of Iraq. “People were grateful for what we were at-
tempting to do over there, but the effects of the war were
devastating to them,” he says. “They would come up to me
and say, ‘You represent the most powerful nation in the
world; why can’t you keep our power on?’
“There’s a lot of time to think while on stand down. Day
after day, I’d see all this wasted solar energy. And it got me
to thinking: We’re investing a great deal of money in recon-
struction. Why don’t we invest taxpayers’ money wisely and
look at cleaner, more independent and technologically
advanced energy systems in our rebuild?”
Owens was further inspired by a pair of 2007 articles
he’d read in SOLAR TODAY by retired Chrysler executive
Frank Zaski and solar advocate Gregory Wright. They
warned that many recent wars, including the Iraq war,
involved securing oil rights. Renewable energy and energy
efficiency, then, are vital to ensuring international accord,
they wrote, and should be part of foreign aid packages.
Owens says providing reliable, politically independent
power and sharing leading-edge technologies can bring
nations like Iraq the security, economic revitalization and
opportunities for self-sufficiency they desire. That helps
win hearts and minds.
But he is cognizant of the fact that using Iraq’s abundant, relatively cheap oil supply to produce electricity can
make the idea of solar a tough sell.
“Oil is a polluting fossil fuel; it’s not a renewable
resource — and we need it for so much more than to
power vehicles and heat our homes and offices. It’s used in
fertilizers, plastics and products that regularly enhance our
quality of life. We need to be prudent with how we deplete
this finite resource,” Owens observes.
When Owens returned from Iraq, he enrolled in the
University of Missouri, where he earned his master’s
degree in physics in May 2009. He skipped his formal
graduation ceremony to attend the American Solar Energy
Society’s (ASES) National Solar Conference, SOLAR 2009, in
Buffalo, N. Y.
Now 39, the Missourian and his five co-directors at
Show Me Solar have created a curriculum of online solar
sessions and blogs to help people incorporate solar into
their daily lives. And each October, Owens coordinates
the greater St. Louis and Columbia, Mo., legs of the ASES
National Solar Tour.
“One thing I learned overseas is how fortunate we are
here in the U.S.,” Owens notes. “In many respects, though,
we are still pretty insulated from the harsh realities of the
rest of the world. We have one of the finest qualities of life
on this planet. We have freedoms that others only dream
about. We have readily available electricity to power our
homes and businesses, but we’re not acting responsibly.
“I earned my master’s with the hope that I could again
be part of the solution. We have important work to do as
ambassadors of the better way of life [that] energy independence can bring.” ST