When humans first appeared on Earth, the only power they had available came from their own muscles. As time went on, they learned to harness the power of animals to till their fields and the wind to cross the oceans, but mankind still relied on muscle power to get things done.
Then along came James Watt, who gave us the steam engine to do our work for us. Life was good. The discovery of petroleum spurred machines called automobiles and airplanes. Electricity became our friend, allowing us to do virtually anything with the touch of a button. Life was very good, indeed.
Sadly, the supply of petroleum on Earth is not infinite. In less than 200 years, mankind will burn through most, if not all, of the fossil fuel that took millions of years to produce. The question is no longer if we will run out of fossil fuels but when.
Power is prosperity. It is the answer to poverty. If there were enough power available, at little to no cost, to meet the needs of every person on Earth, what wondrous things might mankind accomplish?
Fortunately, the is such a power source and it is just 93,000,000 miles away. It’s called the sun. It’s free. It’s non=polluting. And it will be around for a billion years or so. If climate change is the most pressing problem confronting mankind for the foreseeable future, solar power is the answer.
Just last week, new advances in nano-technology were announced that will make tomorrow’s solar panels twice as efficient as the best panels available today. Nano-technology may even allow future panels to harvest the infrared radiation from the Earth after the sun goes down.
Critics are quick to point out that solar panels do not work 24 hours a day and that some of us like to read or watch TV during the night. The response is that during the daylight hours, solar panels can produce more electricity than is needed. This excess can be stored in a number of ways.
Batteries are an easy solution, but batteries have some drawbacks of the own, the most important of which is that they are hazardous to the environment when they are produced and when they are disposed of. Just recently, eco-friendly batteries that rely on vegetable matter and iron have made news.
Other methods include using the extra power during the day to pump water uphill into a storage area. Later, the water is released to turn generators while it runs back downhill. Think Hoover Dam, here. Apple has just filed for a patent on a system that used excess energy to heat a fluid. Later, that heat is used to create steam to spin a turbine.
Enough sunlight strikes the Earth every minute to meet the needs of all 6 billion people currently alive for an entire day. The means to harness that power is within our grasp. Isn’t it time we got busy providing abundant non-polluting energy for all people instead of fighting wars over the last few drops of fossil fuel?