Can the Sun Supply Man’s Power Needs?
TO OPERATE modern conveniences—automobiles, air-conditioners, electric ranges, and the like—requires tremendous amounts of power. However, the coal, oil and natural gas used to produce this power are beginning to run out. Nuclear energy, which is being looked to as a replacement, is considered by many as too dangerous to public health and safety.a Well, then, is there any other source of power?
Fortunately there is. “Enough solar energy falls on the United States every 20 minutes to fill the country’s entire power needs for one year.” (The World Book Encyclopedia, 1970) Another estimate is that every day the sun provides our earth with energy equal to “about as much as is locked in all the earth’s reserves of coal, oil, natural gas and uranium.”—Science Digest, June 1965.
Truly, the amount of available energy from the sun is fantastic. And think: That energy from the sun is renewable day after day. And it is pollution free! Could it be that it was the purpose of the Creator for the sun to fill all of man’s energy needs?
Common Use of Solar Energy
The sun always has been the source of man’s bodily energy, providing him with the physical power to do things. This has been according to the Creator’s marvelous design. ‘How so?’ you may ask.
Well, sunlight provides the energy necessary for living plants to transform carbon dioxide and water into the basis of all food, a simple sugar.
From this sugar all the other carbohydrates, numerous fats and proteins are produced. So, whether humans eat vegetation or the animals that live off it, they are actually being powered indirectly by energy from the sun! It is really amazing how plants were designed to capture radiant energy from the sun and store it for man’s use—something that humans cannot do.
In still another way man has been using sunlight for some of his power needs. Over a hundred years ago the engineer George Stephenson showed appreciation of how sun power is thus utilized by man. While watching a railroad train as it disappeared in the distance, he turned to his friend and asked: “What moves the engine?”
“Why, one of your Newcastle engineers, of course,” came the answer.
“No,” replied Stephenson, “sunlight!”
To his bewildered friend, Stephenson explained: “It is light that has lain stored in the earth for many thousands of years; the light absorbed by the plant during its growth is essential to the condensation of carbon, and this light, which has been buried in the coal for so many years, is now unearthed and, being freed again as in this locomotive, serves great human ends.”
So, as astonishing as it may seem, modern machines, including the tremendous turbines in electric generating plants, are, in fact, powered indirectly by energy from the sun!
However, not only coal, but petroleum and natural gas, too, represent preserved sun power, since it is believed that such deposits were likely formed by heat and pressure on plants and animals long ages in the past. Even the water that turns turbines in hydroelectric plants was first “pumped” from the oceans by the sun to fall as rain or snow before running back again to the seas. (Eccl. 1:7) Thus it is that sun power indirectly drives our automobiles, buses and airplanes, as well as our electric appliances!
Wise Use of the Sun’s Energy?
But consider: Is man wisely utilizing the sun’s energy? Is it wisdom recklessly to gouge and pump from the earth at accelerated speed this marvelous storehouse of energy? Is it the course of wisdom to squander this reservoir of stored-up sun power, polluting rivers and lakes with much of its heat energy, and belching poisonous wastes into the air?
As an alternative, would it not be much wiser to use directly the sun’s tremendous amount of pollution-free energy that daily showers the earth? Man has demonstrated ability to harness energy radiated from outer space. For example, even distant starlight has been used to trip a relay to light electric candles. Why, then, does not man directly harness solar energy?
Direct Use of Sun Power
The fact is, man has already done this, but only in a limited way. For example, a number of houses have been built that are solar heated. A collector area, consisting basically of a black plate that absorbs the sun’s rays, is installed on the roof. The sun’s heat is used to raise the temperature of air or water, which is then circulated throughout the house, or is stored in an insulated tank and used when needed.
Probably the most widespread use of solar energy today is to heat water. In Japan over a million hot-water solar heaters have been produced, and these can be seen on many Japanese rooftops.
A still more direct and spectacular use of solar energy is in giant industrial furnaces. The largest of such furnaces, located at Odeillo in southern France, will burn holes through thick steel plates almost instantaneously! Sixty-three large flat mirrors are arranged on a hillside. These each track the sun across the sky and reflect its rays onto a fixed point on a huge parabolic reflector, which, in turn, focuses the many rays on an area only about twelve inches wide. In this superheated area, the heart of the furnace, temperatures reach 7,000° F., which demonstrates the tremendous power of sunlight!
Sun-powered Generating Plants?
Over the years a number of engines powered by the sun have also been built. Sunlight may, for example, be used to heat a liquid that produces steam, which, in turn, drives a turbine engine. However, generation of electricity by such a method has been dismissed as impractical. But there are some who are beginning to take a closer look at the possibilities. This is because, on paper at least, methods of more efficiently converting solar energy to electrical power have been worked out.
Last year the National Science Foundation was said to be so intrigued with one proposed method that it was looking for money to build a 100,000-kilowatt experimental plant in the desert near Yuma, Arizona. It is said that it would be able to convert up to 30 percent of the energy received from the sun to electricity.
Of course, large sunlight-collecting areas would be required to capture the energy necessary to generate large amounts of electricity. How much area? Theoretically, only about a hundred square miles of Arizona desert, less than one percent of that state’s land area, could produce all the power and heat requirements for Canada and the United States. However, due to energy losses in conversion of sunlight to electricity, and the need to keep solar collectors spaced to avoid shadows, much, much larger collecting areas would actually be needed. There are, of course, other problems associated with such a power system.
Use of Solar Cells
In 1954 a scientific breakthrough was accomplished that made possible, on a commercial scale, an even more direct use of solar energy. In that year scientists devised a solar battery, consisting of a number of individual silicon cells. This device directly converts to electricity as much as 12 to 14 percent of the energy of sunlight falling on it, and hopes have been expressed of improving this efficiency.
Sunlight’s transformation to electricity takes place instantaneously and silently. The light striking the solar cells causes a flow of electrons that can be harnessed to play a radio, drive a motor, charge a storage battery, and so forth. The development of the solar battery thus opened up entirely new horizons for using the sun’s energy.
However, while noting the grand possibilities of the solar battery, D. S. Halacy, Jr., also points to a problem in his book The Coming Age of Solar Energy:
“Back in the early days of the solar battery, the solar-shingled roof was an eye-catching idea. A roof 20 feet by 40 feet, converting solar energy to electricity at 10 per cent efficiency, would provide sufficient kilowatt hours to service a home on only 5 days of sunshine a month! The obvious fly in the ointment then, as now, was the price of the solar shingles. At current prices  such a roof would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
The price is still high. It is true that silicon, the raw material used, is plentiful. But it is an expensive and painstaking job, requiring skilled handwork, to prepare these solar cells. Thus the primary use of such solar batteries has been in providing power for space satellites, where high costs can be afforded.
Nevertheless, solar cells have already been used on a commercial scale to power such things as radios, clocks, TV sets and movie cameras; and some of these appliances have been marketed. For long-distance radio communications, stations 3,000 miles apart have each used a twenty-square-foot panel of solar batteries containing more than 7,800 individual solar cells as the sole power source. Even an experimental automobile has been driven several miles on sun power!
Future for Solar Power
Surely, a person might conclude, by now all-out efforts are under way to develop this marvelous potential of pollution-free power, since, as one engineer remarked: “The technology required to utilize solar energy is within our grasp.”
Yet what is being done? Last year S. David Freeman, as United States government aide on energy policy, said: “Solar energy is one of our neglected opportunities.”
Admittedly, there are many problems yet to be overcome if solar energy is to relieve the power shortage. For example, the cost of the photovoltaic material for solar batteries is high, and the present means of storing electricity is expensive. But with concentrated effort, could not such problems be solved?
Some scientists think they could. They believe that the photovoltaic material could be turned out at the cost of just a few dollars per square foot of surface, making it possible to roof your home with solar shingles! But do not build your hopes too high, since the neglect of efforts to develop solar energy for man’s use has dimmed such a prospect.
And why this neglect?
Problems of Developing Technology
The technology to solve some of our many fuel problems is often within grasp, yet not seized. For example, an Atomic Energy Commission official declared: “If we had done the research 15 years ago, we’d have had clean fossil-fuel (conventional coal, oil or gas) plants for the past 10 years.”
Why, then, did the electric power plants not do the research to develop pollution-free facilities? Because it costs money.
It is similar with the automotive industry. S. Smith Griswold, as chief of the Los Angeles Air Pollution Control District, said: “To people interested in profits, expenditures for the development and production of exhaust controls are liabilities.”
So one wonders if one of the main reasons why radical new developments in harnessing solar energy have not been made is due to fear of damaging the present profit-making corporations. How so?
Well, consider this: Say that with concerted efforts sunlight could be converted cheaply to electricity, as some scientists suggest. And say that each home could have a small panel of solar cells attached to its roof that would provide all its power needs. Why, in a short time the utilities companies would be practically put out of business! Oil, coal, gas and nuclear energy interests would also be adversely affected. Is it likely to expect these vested interests to be the primary promoters of such revolutionary developments? Hardly.
Obviously, a major change is needed. The present industrialized way of life, to a considerable extent, needs to be dismantled, and an end be put to the trend toward further industrialization. But it is apparent that governments of today will not voluntarily cooperate to do this.
A Righteous Solution
However, what human governments have not done and cannot be expected to do, we can have full confidence that man’s Creator Almighty God will do. In fact, the time has drawn close for Him to assert his almighty power to wipe out this entire wicked system of things. This means that man’s whole system that has so polluted the earth will be permanently disrupted.
However, the earth will not be completely depopulated; there will be people left who genuinely love God and who appreciate his marvelous creations. They will thus use the earth’s resources in such a way as not to bring harm to the environment. Does this mean mankind will live a primitive way of life without power to operate modern conveniences?
No, that is not necessary. The earth has energy that can be harnessed without polluting the environment. Under the guidance of God’s righteous administration man will learn to tap earth’s energy resources effectively, and he will use them wisely, in a way that is totally beneficial. Everyone will have all the power needed to live comfortably and to enjoy life to the full. There will be no power shortages then, nor will there be an ugly pollution problem!—Ps. 37:9-11, 29; Rev. 21:3, 4.
a See Awake!, September 22, 1972.