Where can we get the huge amounts of energy to power the human species for the coming thousands of years? The current supplies of oil, coal and flowing water are coming into a time of short supply and all of those supplies as they are presently being used will be totally used up in a few hundred years. That sounds okay for us personally until you remember that civilization is 12,000 years old, that the pyramids are 5,000 years old, western civilization is 2,000 years old and that the industrial society which we currently live in is about 200 years old. Looked at in those longer terms our current rate of using up resources makes them look rather temporary. Shakespeare is now 400 years old which is twice as long as our resources will last and he seems rather current when you watch Hamlet.
The sun provides a thousand times more power to Earth than humans are currently using. Even the concentrated fossil energy in the form of coal, oil and the nuclear fuel we consume are ultimately derived from the sun and stars. Those forms of energy are single use and have destructive side effects when used excessively. We have three basic ways we consume solar energy more directly, sunshine converted into heat, sunshine converted into wind and sunshine converted into plants.
Ultimately all of this energy which powers our lives, our actions and our thoughts comes from the sun’s energy. We get energy from eating the plants which convert sunshine into food such as rice, wheat and corn. We eat some animals which convert that plant food into meat such as beef, pork and fish. We eat further on down the derivative food chain in the form of milk, yogurt and Coke. That being the case we should be interested in securing as much of this solar energy as cheaply and cleanly as possible. Enter the solar panel industry and the windmills which are now sprouting up worldwide. These will be a great help in the long run for providing sustained non-polluting energy. The current problem is to find ways of providing these new sources of energy more cheaply than coal. In ideal conditions it is now possible to provide wind powered electricity more cheaply than coal powered electricity and the wind industry is getting better and cheaper but so is the coal industry. In a few hundred years when the easily mined coal is running out and becoming very expensive the wind and solar methods will become the relatively cheap sources of power.
Solar energy is as reliable as the sun itself. Wind is a direct derivative of the Earth re-sending the solar energy it receives back into space and therefore wind energy is as reliable as the sun itself. The sun and wind may be seen as cyclic and variable but that is only in the short-term of hours, days and weeks but in terms of years and decades and millennia the sun and wind are extremely constant and reliable. As we find cheap and reliable ways to harvest the sun’s energy we will become cleaner and better consumers of energy.