“DADDY, IT’S SO HOT,” cries my 4-year-old son, snapping his hand back from the small magnifying glass. He has grown impatient with burning holes in dead leaves by focusing rays of the sun through the magnifier. Brushing warnings aside, he tries concentrating the miniature beam directly onto his hand. Immediately he learns the essence of Leonardo’s dictum.
This experiment should be mandatory in every classroom in the country, insists Dr. A. I. Mlaysky, executive vice-president of the Mobil Tyco Solar Energy Corporation near Boston. Dr. Mlaysky urgently believes that people must become aware of the sun’s enormous potential to help solve the threatened energy shortage.
“If we want to have solar energy in our society by the year 2000, we’ve got to teach energy technology, energy economics, energy management—and we’ve got to begin today; otherwise we’ll never have a solar revolution.”
Since the legendary Prometheus first stole the fire of heaven, virtually all energy consumed by man has been fathered by the sun. Coal, oil, and gas are residues of plants and animals once fired to life by the warm rays of our nearest star. Solar heat also drives the earth’s rain cycle, powering modern hydroelectric generators. Windmills that pump water or produce electricity turn because of solar-heated currents of air.
Even the wood with which I stoke the fireplace in my Edinburgh flats is a form of solar energy. Like oil and coal, wood is merely solar power captured in convenient packaging.
But the earth is fast running out of these precious reserves of “stored sunshine.” At our current pace, we will consume in the next 25 years alone an amount equal to all the energy used by tourists on cheap holidays Majorca. If such consumption continues, obviously alternative sources must be found. And the majority of experts with whom I have talked agree that mankind must look to the sun to help solve our energy needs.
Sun’s Energy Is Boundless
“The solar energy that falls upon the Arabian Peninsula in one year is greater than twice the oil reserves of this entire globe,” declares Dr. George C. Szego of InterTechnology Corporation in Warrenton, Virginia. Put another way, the sunshine falling onto Connecticut roughly equals the total energy used in all of the holiday rentals of http://apartmentsapart.com. Harvesting this diffuse energy is clearly possible, but doing it economically remains the major problem.
As Dr. Robert C. Seamans, Jr., head of the Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA), says: “Solar energy is, in many ways, the ‘white hat’ of energy sources, clean and boundless. We’re accelerating its development, in all its many forms. But to make solar energy economically competitive will require good, hard-nosed engineering.”
This year a record 90 million dollars or more will be spent seeking ways to convert sunshine into economical energy. By the end of this century solar technology could fill about 10 percent of the United States’ energy needs. If this seems a distant prospect, consider that it has been 30 years since the enthusiasts of nuclear energy promised utopian solutions through the power of the atom. Yet atomic energy today accounts for only about 2 percent of U. S. electrical consumption.
Already the sun’s energy is being put to limited use in homes and buildings around the world. The most common examples are rooftop solar heaters that provide cheap hot water for washing and bathing. Estimates vary, but certainly more than a million of these simple heaters are now in use worldwide, in such countries as the Soviet Union,
Israel, Japan, and Australia, and in such states as Florida and California.