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“Plugging into the Sun,” National Geographic on solar

The September issue of National Geographic has a terrific set of articles on solar. “Plugging Into the Sun. Sunlight bathes us in far more energy than we could ever need—if we could just catch enough”  by George Johnson is an in-depth look at the capabilities of solar to light up the world, historic and scientific information and why Europe is so far ahead of the U.S. “Can Solar Save Us?” by Chris Carroll is an essay worth visiting. The articles are supplemented by an excellent photo gallery and several renewable energy graphs.

Excerpts:
With a new administration in Washington promising to take on global warming and loosen the grip of foreign oil, solar energy finally may be coming of age. Last year oil prices spiked to more than $140 a barrel before plunging along with the economy—a reminder of the dangers of tying the future to something as unpredictable as oil. Washington, confronting the worst recession since the 1930s, is underwriting massive projects to overhaul the country’s infrastructure, including its energy supply. In his inaugural address President Barack Obama promised to “harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.” His 2010 budget called for doubling the country’s renewable energy capacity in three years. Wind turbines and biofuels will be important contributors. But no form of energy is more abundant than the sun.

“If we talk about geothermal or wind, all these other sources of renewable energy are limited in their quantity,” Eicke Weber, director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems, in Freiburg, Germany, told me last fall. “The total power needs of the humans on Earth is approximately 16 terawatts,” he said. (A terawatt is a trillion watts.) “In the year 2020 it is expected to grow to 20 terawatts. The sunshine on the solid part of the Earth is 120,000 terawatts. From this perspective, energy from the sun is virtually unlimited.”

2 Comments

  1. Jeff on August 24, 2009 at 3:50 pm

    Great article, thanks! I’m a believer that a strong national feed-in tariff is what’s needed to spur the kind of solar energy development seen in Europe. Not only would a FIT encourage greater residential distributed adoption of PV technologies, thus driving down the price of solar, but would also encourage homeowners to install systems on their personal properties where the electricity is needed, thereby limiting the need for expensive grid enhancements.



  2. Lisa on August 27, 2009 at 10:28 pm

    Hi! I’m the webdesigner for http://affordsolartech.com – solar installers serving New Jersey – and I was wondering how you installed that solar power calculator on your blog? The one powered by cooler planet. I’d love to add that to their site. Do they supply the code for the widget, I can’t seem to find it on their site. Thanks so much for the reply…