Monthly Archives: August 2010

The Case for Solar Energy

Take a look up in the sky on a sunny day and you’ll witness the most amazing, powerful, and incredibly renewable source of energy known to man. The Sun. Of course, don’t stare directly at it or you’ll risk going blind. It’s just another reminder of how powerful the Sun really is.

As a species, we’ve been using solar energy for quite some time. Man has used it since ancient times to dry everything from clothing to animal hides. But we’ve been slow to adopt solar energy on a significant scale, primarily because in the 20th century, we lacked the technologies to efficiently capture and store it.

On a sunny day, each square meter on Earth receives approximately 160 watts of power from the sun over a 24 hour period. That means the entire planet receives about 84 terrawatts of power in a day. That’s a tremendous amount of power. Of course, we lack the means to capture and harness sunlight over every square meter of the globe, but you can quickly get a sense of solar energy’s potential.

The biggest obstacle to widespread adoption of solar energy is the relative inefficiency of converting raw sunlight to usable power. Solar technology has come a long way in just the last 20 years, but significant and costly obstacles remain preventing widespread adoption. Still, if you take the long view–something we should be doing a lot more of when it comes to energy and environmental issues–you’ll soon discover that solar energy is the best long-term solution for much our needs.

Think of it this way. Most of the inhabitants of our planet got along just fine for 4 billion years relying almost entirely on solar energy. Power and warmth from the sun was so important that our ancestors quite literally worshiped it, creating several gods who represented the power and life that the sun brought to their lives. I was reminded of this while my son was playing an adventure called Time Tangled Island on Poptropica. In this quest, you need to retrieve a piece of a sun stone mask belonging to an Aztec tribe. Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec sun god, was the most important god of all. He was the god who told the Aztecs where to build their city, and it was to him that human sacrifices were often made.

Can we adapt our approaches to energy consumption to do the same? The answer is yes and while the road to get there is long, it’s possible. We need smart and innovative approaches, an assessment of all the possible choices, and a well-thought action-plan to move to solar, but it’s possible and absolutely can be done.