My turn: the three hardest words to say
Mankind’s ingenuity and the sun’s power show I was wrong about solar energy
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“I WAS WRONG.” Some wise soul says those are the three hardest words for a human being to say.
Hard or not, I think it’s time for me to apply the confession to my long-standing disdain for those who think we’ll soon be heating our homes and powering our cars with solar energy. “Maybe in 100 years,” I’ve stubbornly conceded. “But no way in my lifetime.”
Even in this column, in discussions about climate change and stewardship of resources, I’ve been way too condescending. I scoffed at the dreamers who imagined modern civilization might ever replace proven petroleum riches with something as distant and erratic as the sun.
But I was wrong. The distant and erratic sun has grabbed my attention more and more.
I have no technical training in fields related to this discussion. But I have learned something about watching what we call the “free market.” You don’t have to stand outside very long on a sunny day—even in the dead of winter—to sense how much heat the sun can produce. Whether we see it or not, it makes its warmth available to every nation and culture on earth, every day of every year, for centuries or even millennia on end. You might consider the sun an equal opportunity space heater—and so very much more. Experts tell us there’s no evidence at all that the sun is burning up! We’re using not even a tiny fraction of its capacity.
Folks aren’t installing such devices these days just for the fun of it. They actually work.
So common sense suggests that even some of us skeptics should swallow our pride and do whatever we can to hook up to God’s giant energy generator. The challenge isn’t so much to find vast new sources of energy. That source has already been discovered. The challenge instead is to get that energy from its source to its ultimate users.
Such a distribution system, if it is to succeed in the free market, needs to be both efficient and timely. So far, it is neither—though we are making progress, and it does show promise.
Just take a look across almost any gathering of new buildings—residential or commercial—and try to see how many solar collectors you can count. Folks aren’t installing such devices these days just for the fun of it, or for their decorative appeal. They actually work. About 40 years ago, I actually installed a primitive solar panel just outside our home’s laundry room—a happy improvement that has saved our family budget at least $30 every single month, or a total of almost $15,000—without a single penny of operational or maintenance costs. And the newer models capture the sun’s energy far more efficiently than mine does.
But what about the issue of timeliness? How can 6 billion people around the world ever learn to lean on a solar source the earth’s rotation obscures every single night? The humble solution may be closer than you’ve imagined. Think batteries.
The essence of a battery is its ability to store energy until you need it. So for most of our lifetimes, we’ve called on batteries for some pretty meager tasks. Getting our homes or our businesses or our factories from sundown one day, through the night, and on to sunup the next day, just hasn’t been in the job description of most batteries. That kind of load is simply too heavy.
But all that is changing. High-powered batteries—even in race cars, if you can believe it—are the coming thing. Which is why you shouldn’t be surprised one of these days to encounter a variety of vehicles, not just in Detroit but in your town as well, with labels that proclaim “Experimental Electric Vehicle.” I used to think this was only the thing of wild dreams. But I was wrong. Now I’m thankful God still infuses His marvelous creation with a spirit of invention and creativity.
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