So­lar has the po­ten­tial to power more than just camp­ing show­ers

Idealog - - Contents - RE­BEKAH WHITE @Re­bekahWh

IT’S IN­VIS­I­BLE. It boils the ket­tle, plays mu­sic, stops ice cream melt­ing, keeps flocks of cat­tle from es­cap­ing, switches on the Large Hadron Col­lider in the morn­ing and ex­e­cutes pris­on­ers on death row. It also re­li­ably ends din­ner party con­ver­sa­tion. For some rea­son, en­ergy isn’t a very invit­ing topic. Just lis­ten: peak oil, wind farms, coal min­ing, frack­ing, so­lar power, nu­clear fu­sion. Are you still pay­ing at­ten­tion? I zoned out just typ­ing that.

But as there’s go­ing to be a point in the fu­ture when we can’t har­vest en­ergy di­rectly from up­set po­lar bear cubs or ice­bergs or other things up north, let’s take a look at our other op­tions, be­cause there are plans afoot well wor­thy of cock­tail-hour anec­dotes.

Our sun is ac­tu­ally not a re­new­able re­source. It’ll run out of juice in about 4.5 bil­lion years, reck­ons NASA. But un­til the year 4,500,002,013 ar­rives, so­lar pow­er­ing things other than camp­ing show­ers is a pretty cun­ning idea.

It’s in­vis­i­ble. It boils the ket­tle, stops ice cream melt­ing, ex­e­cutes pris­on­ers

on death row and ends din­ner party con­ver­sa­tions

So­lar ra­di­a­tion just drops from the sky for free, plus you don’t need to buy an ex­plo­ration per­mit for it, like you do for min­ing. You might think those parts of the world that never cloud over (‘is­lands’) are prob­a­bly busy har­vest­ing all that free sun power al­ready. But the Greek is­lands run on diesel. So do most of the Pa­cific ones.

That’s where Suner­gises come in (www. suner­ They’re busy run­ning around Fiji in­stalling so­lar ar­rays for noth­ing. The busi­ness works on a power-pur­chase agree­ment model, ex­plains Nick Wor­thing­ton, who you might know bet­ter as Colenso BBDO’s top cre­ative guy.

“So where it might be cost­ing Fi­jians 90c a kilo­watt to gen­er­ate power us­ing diesel, they might buy it from Suner­gise for 30c a kilo­watt,” Wor­thing­ton says. The lo­cals make a sav­ing and Suner­gise slowly pays down their loan. No-one’s mak­ing heaps of money from the scheme, but every­body’s win­ning.

Wor­thing­ton’s job is get­ting busi­nesses on board for in­stal­la­tions here – start­ing with Colenso, then maybe Karen Walker.

Suner­gise isn’t the only one look­ing at the sky and do­ing the maths. Boffins have fig­ured out that just 0.3 per­cent of the sun­light fall­ing on the Sa­hara is enough to power the en­tire Euro­pean Union, while Saudi Ara­bia is plan­ning to blow $109 bil­lion on build­ing so­lar ar­rays. A study in the Jour­nalofEn­vi­ron­men­tal Stud­iesandS­cience found once you add on the en­vi­ron­men­tal and so­cial costs to power gen­er­a­tion from fos­sil fu­els, re­new­able en­ergy works out cheaper.

Other en­ergy com­pa­nies are look­ing un­der their feet rather than up into the sky, but what they’ve spot­ted won’t keep Green­peace in­terns up late at night cre­at­ing neg­a­tive PR cam­paigns. Turns out vol­ca­noes have plenty of en­ergy to spare! And if your coun­try isn’t rich in geo­ther­mal ac­tiv­ity, don’t let that stop you; for­mer Bri­tish en­ergy min­is­ter Charles Hendry wants to harness Ice­land’s vol­ca­noes and us­ing them to power the UK. (Ice­land is yet to com­ment on how it feels about this). Chile’s look­ing into it, too – it’s got 10 per­cent of the world’s vol­ca­noes.

Fi­nally, Stan­ford engi­neers have just fig­ured out how to gen­er­ate power from poop (well, from mi­crobes that have evolved to pro­duce elec­tric­ity as they digest plant and an­i­mal waste). They have a 30 per­cent ef­fi­ciency rate – about the same as so­lar ar­rays con­vert­ing sun­light into en­ergy. It still might not pro­vide great din­ner-party chat, but some­where there’s a sad lit­tle po­lar bear sigh­ing in relief.

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