The Third Solar Age –Michael Noll

LTE in the VDT today. -jsq

For millennia humans gazed into the sky and marveled at birds sailing through the air. While some imagined a day when we would be able to fly, others said it could not be done. Likewise the idea of infinite, clean energy might seem unattainable to some, but the progress we have seen in recent years is astonishing.

Since the discovery of fire we have used wood for a source of energy. Because timber is a product of photosynthesis and thereby the sun’s solar radiation, the era of wood for energy might be considered our first solar age.

It took until the 18th century before the use of fossil fuels became noteworthy due to the Industrial Revolution. This was our second solar age, relying on ancient pockets of sunlight (coal, oil, natural gas) which formed 300 million years ago.

Now we are entering a third solar age, and this time we are directly harvesting the sun’s energy. The amount of solar radiation we receive on our planet in just one hour could cover global energy needs for a full year.

The stories of human flight and renewable energy are actually intertwined: they said it could not be done, but in 1783 a hot air balloon took flight in France; they said it could not be done, but in 1903 the Wright brothers made their first flight in North Carolina; they said it could not be done, but the first manned mission to the moon succeeded in 1969 when Neil Armstrong climbed down a ladder and stated “that’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”; they said it could not be done, but in 2013 the first solar-powered plane flew across the US.

Just as we are able to fly, the development of clean sources of energy will be the lunar landing of our generation. It might take some of us longer to understand what Thomas Edison said in 1931 (“I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.”) but eventually there will be no denying that solar (plus wind, hydro, geothermal, etc.) works, and that our independence from dirty fossil fuels is just around the corner.

2013 has been a stellar year for both solar and wind as worldwide installations skyrocketed, increasing renewable energy production, offering hundreds of thousands of jobs, and keeping environments safe. The newest solar plants are able to provide energy 24/7 with the help of salt batteries; advances in solar nanotechnology continue to break efficiency records; new batteries are improving our ability to store energy; solar electricity hit grid parity with coal (as it did with nuclear in 2010).

In the spirit of the Wright brothers, Thomas Edison and Neil Armstrong, let’s embrace the Third Solar Age.

Dr. Michael G. Noll, President
Wiregrass Activists for Clean Energy