My relatives in the D.C. area are on a Prius waiting list. People wanting to build their own electric bikes are on waiting lists for parts. If you’re planning to put up some solar panels, well, get in line. According to Rich Bunch, at Silicon Solar Inc, their next shipment of solar components is due on Oct. 15 and 90 percent of it is already spoken for. I’m guessing that this shipment, like most shipments, is coming from China.

Shortages not only trip up building schedules, but they also inflate prices. I recently received an estimate of about $9,000 to install a tube hot-water system for a family of four from a local solar installer. This is roughly two or three times what it would cost if supply were meeting demand. When a potential customer approaches a contractor who already has all the business he can handle, or in this case, can’t get enough of the parts needed to do a job, the contractor is likely to quote an outrageous price. It’s like fishing. Once in a while you’ll get a bite.

Shortages also affect quality. The best products are the hardest to find, so installers are using whatever they can get their hands on. There is a silver lining to all of this. Going green is no longer a joke. It’s for real and there is money to be made doing it.

In theory these shortages will pass. There is always a lag in supply when demand ramps up rapidly. The arrival of the low-cost Honda Insight this spring will help to alleviate the Prius shortage. On the other hand, shortages of basic commodities like copper have also arrived. In theory, this will be handled by entrepreneurs looking for ways to use less copper. When we ran out of old-growth wood, we invented plywood.

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Today the world is facing a wealth explosion, which is in many ways analogous to a population explosion, but pouring gas on this fire is the fact that our population is also still growing by about 75 million a year.

This dance between consumers and entrepreneurs could save the planet if there were also economic forces powerful enough to rope off places like the Amazon from development. The dance would simply continue outside of those boundaries. We would get by with smaller decks made of brick or stone instead of ones made from tropical hardwoods, smaller homes heated mostly by solar, and chicken or pork mixed with our rice or potatoes instead of a half-pound steak surrounded by a garnish. We would be just as happy because our peers would have brick patios too. It would be analogous to living on a smaller planet, but at least one with its life support system still intact.

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