Module 6: Solar and Wind Power



We are burning fossil fuels about a million times faster than nature saved them for us. We might continue on this path for another century or more, or we might face an “energy crisis” within a few decades as we begin to run out of fossil fuels.  But, we cannot choose to rely on fossil fuels for the long-term, because they simply will not be there.

Fortunately, there are vast resources of renewable energy available. If we could collect just 0.01% of the sun’s energy reaching the top of our atmosphere, we would have more energy than is now used by all humans together. With modern technologies, a solar farm in a sunny region near the equator only a few hundred kilometers (or miles) on a side would supply more energy than we are now using. Building such a solar farm would be a huge task, but we have completed huge tasks before.

Roughly 1% of the sun’s energy goes to power the wind, so we could energize all of humanity using the wind, too. Building a wind farm on just the windy parts of the plains and deserts of the world would provide much more energy than we now use. Again, there are huge challenges in actually building that many wind turbines, getting the energy where we want it, and smoothing out the effects of night and day, storm and still weather. But, no “breakthroughs” are needed, just building and improving what we already know how to do.

Using renewable energy is not a new idea. Abraham Lincoln advocated wind power, for example, and Thomas Alva Edison promoted the use of solar energy. So, let’s go see what they were thinking of, and how modern scientists and engineers have risen to their challenge.