Solar Energy

The thing I like best is when there’s a hurricane and a hurricane expert comes on TV and says “It’s releasing as much power as fifty Hiroshima atom bombs going off every minute.”  Or else this:  “It’s producing 200 times, as much energy as all of the electric generating plants in the world.”

Nothing points out better the absurdities in discussion of America’s energy future. Because last time I looked, a hurricane is solar energy.  Solar energy on the scale of fifty Hiroshima bombs a minute.  Solar energy, on a scale to generate enough electricity for 200 planet Earths.

The last time I looked, a tornado is solar energy.  For a 200 mph tornado, solar energy is equivalent to the output of two big nuclear power plants.

The last time I looked, every drop of drinking water on earth is the product of solar energy.  The sun picks up water from the oceans, it condenses, falls back down, and we drink it.  Every single drop of drinking water and the sun does this for free.

The last time I looked, everything we eat is produced by solar energy.  We eat plants, and we eat animals that eat plants, and plants grow by converting solar energy into forms they and we can use. The sun does this for free, too.

The last time I looked, every human being on earth – along with every other plant and animal – is a product of solar energy.  It’s the sun, and only the sun, that provides the energy to create and sustain humans, plants, and animals in all their incredible complexity.

And by the way, the last time I looked, gasoline and coal and oil are solar energy.  Plants died and fell to the bottom of swamps and got trapped and cooked and came out as coal and oil.  The only thing is, as an economist would put it, they’re solar capital, not solar income.  They’re an inheritance from millions of years ago, and like a stupid kid who gets an inheritance from his grandmother and spends it all instead of investing, we’re burning our solar capital as if it will never run out.

There is plenty of solar energy, more than enough for ourselves and our kids and our grand-kids and theirs and theirs and theirs.  I don’t know why we don’t harvest this energy.  I don’t know why every new house in the U.S. isn’t built with solar panels on the roof.  I don’t know why we’re not covering with solar panels the roofs of millions of houses already built.  I don’t know why the parking lots of big-box malls don’t have a canopy of solar panels ten feet off the ground, or why the big boxes themselves aren’t roofed with solar panels.  I don’t know why the windbreaks between fields in Illinois and Iowa, or California or Vermont, aren’t planted with windmills.  I don’t know why we’re not growing oil crops or algae for biofuel, or producing electricity from biomass.

I don’t know why politicians, policy wonks and pundits argue and obstruct.  Don’t they have kids?  Don’t they have eyes?  Don’t they have brains?

We are, every single one of us, every living thing on earth, the products of solar energy.  We are utterly reliant on solar energy.  There is no other energy that will be here hundreds or thousands of years from now.  There is no other energy that is free and without waste.  There is no other energy that makes life possible.

Fifty Hiroshimas a minute.  We can use that energy.