“Within 6 hours deserts receive more energy from the sun than humankind consumes within a year. An area of around the size of a living room, covered by mirrors for concentrating solar thermal power plants, would suffice to cover the electricity need of one person day and night – carbon free.”
– Desertec Foundation
Proponents of a greener future based on solar energy will often use “big solution” approaches to reaffirm that the world’s energy woes are more a result of political and economic barriers than technological ones. They may be right, but one thing is clear: at the moment solar power cannot, on its own, solve the world’s energy problems. The problem is not that solar panels won’t work, or that they aren’t sustainable; it is that the will is simply not where it needs to be. So at least for now, the world may need to learn to think in terms of incremental solutions instead.
Jim Meaney is the founder of a small, Newfoundland-based solar power company called Cansolair. The company’s solar panels – comprised of stacked columns of black-painted aluminum pop cans – are mounted to the exterior wall of a house or office building, and the heat energy they absorb from the sun is circulated into the building through simple convection, so no additional power is required to operate them. Even if each panel reduces a household’s energy use by only a small amount, as this kind of small-scale, easy-to-deploy innovation spreads through the population, aggregate energy savings will add up quickly. In the end, though, the greatest impact of incremental fixes like this may be on how we view solutions to our problems.
Here’s Mr. Meaney explaining his invention: