As the sun rises, I’m fascinated with this immense source of energy. In an hour, more sunlight falls on the earth than what is used by the entire population in a year. The light and warmth of the star of our solar system is responsible for almost all of our energy, in a variety of forms. The notable exception is the seemingly mysterious lunar gravitational forces that create our ocean tides.
The light from the sun, through photosynthesis, enables plants to grow. Plants and trees recycle the carbon dioxide we exhale back into the oxygen we breathe in a harmonious, shared environment. As their life comes to a close, the energy stored in the plant is released in a variety of ways. Fossil fuels, including oil, coal and natural gas, represent the stored energy from decayed plant matter that originated from ancient sunlight. We’re learning to mimic and speed up that process using a variety of technologies, including thermal depolymerization and plasma converters. It’s also becoming more commonplace to recycle and convert our landfill waste into methane.
As the sun warms the earth, heat energy is stored in the ground, which can be tapped into with geothermal heating & cooling systems. Uneven warming creates weather patterns which produce wind and rain. Wind has long been a source of energy, driving grist mills, pumping water and pushing ships across the ocean, but dramatic improvements in the last 30 years have enabled the largest turbines to power almost 500 homes. Wind farms are being developed on the mountains, plains and offshore – anywhere the wind blows.
As sunlight evaporates water that forms clouds, the rains fall and rivers run. Like wind, running water has been a source of energy for millennia, and advances in our engineering prowess have enabled the construction of huge dams that supply large amounts of hydroelectric power. Unfortunately, the environmental destruction caused by these dams outweighs the benefits of the clean energy produced, so smaller “micro” hydroelectric turbines are becoming more widely desired and used.
Newtonian physics tells us that everything in our universe is a series of particles orbiting around a core in an incessant pattern. In quantum physics, scientists are learning more about the magic behind particles and waves, and have discovered a unified field from which all things are made. With great anticipation we wait for the promise of some sort of nuclear fusion to replace the fission used in today’s nuclear reactors.
Our challenge is to think outside the box, and learn to effectively harness energy from a variety of sources. By looking at the potential energy in everything, we’re likely to discover the abundance in our midst.