Lack of Environment

A blog on the politics and psychology underlying the denial of all our environmental problems

Saved by the Sun

with 12 comments

(yes we could be)

A comment posted on this blog on Monday concludes with the words “…I look forward to your next blog but some solutions would occasionally be welcome.  As it happens, I stumbled upon a TV programme (in the Nova series), which was re-broadcast on Sky on the PBS America channel on Monday night.  The most amazing thing about this programme is that it was first broadcast in 2007.  Its main message is a very clear one – we have the solution to our energy crisis.  Therefore, its main question is a very clear one too – why are we not implementing it?

I have now found it on You Tube; and have appended it below.  However, here is a brief summary:

  • Solar Farms (using parabolic mirrors to focus energy onto oil-filled tubes that generate electricity by boiling water to make steam [i.e. solar thermal]) have been around for over 20 years.
  • Solar Farms (using photovoltaic panels that convert radiation directly to electricity [i.e. solar PV]) have also been around for quite a while and are getting cheaper all the time.
  • Both of the above can be developed on land not being used for any other purpose (other than perhaps grazing animals), whereas Solar PV can be installed on the roof of any suitable building.
  •  Since this Nova programme was first broadcast, solar thermal plants have been built with capacitors (huge tanks of salt solution) that enable electricity to be stored and discharged when the Sun is not shining – therefore making them capable of providing power 24/7.
  • Solar PV panels have a very low energy conversion efficiency and they are expensive.  However, even in 2007, it was noted that, as with all other forms of new technology, the price was coming down as the scale of production increased.  Despite this, most households who invest (especially if given financial incentives to do so) can generate income from their solar PV panels by “exporting” unused electricity to the network to which they remain connected (and thereby – at very least – halve their energy bills).
  • Similarly, even in 2007, there were already companies marketing solar PV systems to the owners of large buildings with flat roofs (another suggestion made on Monday).  Knowing the cost of manufacture and the durability of the panels, the manufacturer/distributor can offer the building owner fixed price carbon-free electricity for decades.
  • Although the proportion of power generated in the USA by solar means was extremely small in 2007 (and still is), in Germany solar power was noted as well on target to provide 20% of all power by 2020 (actually it has all but reached this target this year).

Critics claim that solar power is not sustainable because it can only be made competitive by means of government subsidy.   However, this is patent nonsense because it ignores the fact that burning the Earth’s finite resources of fossil fuels is destabilising the Earth’s climate.  There is, therefore, only one thing that is not sustainable – and it is not the generation of electricity from renewable (i.e. effectively infinite) sources.

Towards the end of the programme (view from 45:30), Dr Amory Lovins is interviewed.  He summarises the situation in a very incisive way (as I believe he is well-known for doing):

“We do have a national energy policy, it is basically to keep wasting lots of energy, import it at whatever price and by whatever means are necessary; keep stealing from our kids; and keep screwing up the climate.  You may think this is a senseless, immoral, and wasteful energy policy; and you would be right.”

So what the **** are our politicians waiting for?  Oh yes, I forgot:  A bit like a delegate at a meeting of the UN in New York connected to a simultaneous translator in a little room somewhere by an earpiece; our politicians are continually being told by the fossil fuel lobby that it will take decades to reduce our dependence upon fossil fuels.

This is quite clearly bullshit; we could do it now – all that is required is for our politicians to tell the fossil fuel lobby that the game is over.

We need to end the subsidies given to fossil fuel companies; and give them to renewable energy companies instead.  End of story.


If you have the time, please do watch the Nova programme (and remember it is already 5 years old):


Addendum:  In order to determine how far things have moved on in 5 years and/or whether the UK has embraced this rent-a-roof business model, I emailed Peter Bennett at the solarpowerportal website.  With his permission, I publish here the relevant part of his response:

As for your question – there are a number of companies in the UK offering ‘free commercial solar installations’. The scheme is exactly the same as the rent-a-roof residential model that has been so popular over the last 18 months. A commercial organisation leases their roofspace to a solar company who installs and operates an array on it. In return the organisation receives unlimited use of the clean, green electricity generated and the solar company recoups the cost of the installation through the associated feed-in tariff payments.  Here’s a (very) small selection of companies offering the service:


12 Responses

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  1. Thank you for a most interesting and stimulating article. I had never heard of the saline battery until now. I have noted in my travels through the ME over the past few years that, although many households have a solar-powered water-heater on the roof hardly any have PV arrays; and this in countries where solar energy is there in abundance… I have just returned from Southern Germany where I observed vast assemblies of PV arrays. Unfortunately, due to modern farming methods of keeping all grazing animals in sheds, I also observed tractors-burning fossil fuel!-running between the rows of PVs mowing the grass which would otherwise obscure the panels instead of allowing sheep into these areas. Sixes and half-dozens come to mind here.


    10 October 2012 at 10:23

  2. I am publishing next week on Learning from Dogs (on the 16th) a fascinating lecture by Amory Lovins that supports the proposition that the USA will be in energy balance within a couple of decades.

    Paul Handover

    10 October 2012 at 15:55

    • Sounds interesting, Paul. I look forward to seeing how it is to be achieved.

      Martin Lack

      10 October 2012 at 16:38

  3. It’s the economy stupid! See

    It is becoming more clear that green technologies are the proven ones, and they are now well established: wave power was viable back in the 70s and solar has halved in cost due to market forces [driven by subsidies]. As for price the 1973 oil ‘crisis’ which quadrupled the price of oil allowed companies to invest more money into developing new technologies to extract North Sea oil than NASA spent on putting a man on the moon. We have the technology and the wealth.

    The scary bit [beyond the end of modern human development through AGW] is that fossil fuel reserves are five times greater than the amount of CO2 we have a chance of dealing with. That is, if we plan to keep temperature rise down at 2c by 2050 we have to leave 4/5ths in the ground. With a global value of fossil fuel energy at $6 trillion [10% of global economy] and the market value of fossil fuel companies based on reserves and future extraction being a gazillion million [I have no idea on how you value a company over 40 years] any international decision to limit CO2 to a sensible level will devalue fossil fuel companies by 4/5ths.

    When the banks were caught lying the loss to the world economy was a few tens of $trillions but added to that was a global downturn in GDP, unemployment levels rising and the near destruction of currencies and even nations [the Arab uprising are directly related to inflation induced by QE]. Imagine the chaos if energy companies suffered a similar loss of confidence.

    Markets have proven themselves to be shortsighted so it is unlikely they will spread the risk between conventional and green energy production and this is added to the fact that fossil fuels are used as hard investment, that is a lot of money is placed in the fossil fuel bank. To add to this is the whole notion of oil and gas reserves, Saudi Arabia apparently had the same amount of oil left after extracting 60 billion barrels over an 18 year period without finding one new oil field. The fossil fuel industry is most likely lying about reserves just as the banks lied about its Ponzi scheme in the mortgage market. So either way we face disaster through either a market collapse because their is less oil or because the oil companies are forced to leave it in the ground or worse an ecological meltdown.

    It is not a technological problem, the issue is getting the markets to see the opportunities of investment and it something that they will not do on their own initiative they need to be led by government.


    10 October 2012 at 16:04

    • Thanks for the email responses. I have now taken the liberty of amending the link in your comment so that it is obvious you are inviting readers to consider your latest blog post (written by you in response to your reading of mine). I will now take a look myself (and comment there).

      As promised in my email, I have now added an addendum to the post (above) – providing an update on where the UK has got to with regard to the specific rent-a-roof business model you suggested should be adopted (and which featured in the Nova programme).

      That being the case, the only thing (apart from fossil fuel lobby disinformation and intransigence) stopping us solving our energy problems is the global debt crisis.

      Martin Lack

      10 October 2012 at 21:54

  4. Here is one for you- – the idea is totally leftfield, but it fulfils certain issues such as distribution, decentralisation of power and offers a recharge network for electric cars and it has received a big chunk of government funding. It is so out there that I wonder if it could possibly be the answer but you never know.


    11 October 2012 at 00:42

  5. […] 2012/10/10: LoE: Saved by the Sun […]

  6. […] thanks to a comment left on a recent post by Martin Lack another very positive story came to light (yet another pun – read on!), […]

  7. […] few weeks ago, I posted an item on my blog that included a video of an old Nova programme (originally broadcast in 2007), which featured Dr […]

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