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March 27, 2017

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The Power of the Sun, inCA Productions, 2005

Executive Producer: Walter Kohn, Nobel Laureate

Produced by David Kennard and Victoria Simpson

Written by John Perlin and David Kennard

Narrated by John Cleese

 

This hour-long examination of the sun as an energy resource is an affirmative statement that closely mirrors John Perlin’s Let It Shine. Following a prologue that discusses the earliest recognition by mankind of the crucial role that the sun has played in our lives, the documentary settles in on important milestones that shaped modern day recognition that the sun is an overwhelmingly potent energy resource with a variety of utilitarian uses.

Albert Einstein’s influence on applications of solar power that became known as the photoelectric effect was an early 20th century milestone. The achievements in the mid-1950s of scientists at Bell Labs is cited as the gateway to modern photovoltaic technology. Silicon was a pioneering substance that led to such breakthroughs as the first solar-powered battery in 1954.

The 1950-60s space race, including satellite exploration, demonstrated proof of the power and value of solar energy technology. Through the efforts and support of government investment, solar power became an integral part of modern life.

But the documentary continuously underscores the ongoing challenge of making solar technology more affordable as new innovations were implemented. With no power grid at sea, modern oil rigs became an initial staging ground for photovoltaics. The U. S. Coast Guard quickly followed suit. Today, 99% of Coast Guard installations are powered by solar technology.

Solar power is particularly valuable in remote locations such as isolated railroad line switching stations. Telephone companies use photovoltaics to power relay stations in mountainous areas. Airstrips can operate 24/7/365 in distant locations because of photovoltaic powered-LED landing lights. Photovoltaics offer installation and operations costs at a fraction of the cost of linkage to the power grid.

The documentary offers an objective view of a critical challenge: how solar energy technology has widespread application to modern energy users. In Japan, an island country with a deep reliance on energy use, widespread photovoltaic technology was pioneered because there were so few conventional energy resources within its borders.

Much of the documentary’s impact is derived from reporting on photovoltaic applications in the developing world. Solar energy has the potential to be a highly effective power source to the two billion people currently without access to electricity.

Extending electrical lines in Africa to the countryside is usually too expensive, which limits family time, work, and study time to daylight hours. There is no energy source for a refrigerator. Kerosene lamps are dangerous and polluting.

Photovoltaic installation in Africa increases educational opportunities, increases potential for an improved quality of life, and creates greater connection with the world at large for many isolated people. In Nepal, connecting solar power with LED lighting costs a fraction of conventional light sources and families have greater access to lighting for important necessities of life.

Other uses of small-scale photovoltaic applications in the developing world include refrigeration of vaccines and delivering clean, purified water that offers the prospect of a heightened standard of living. Solar-powered water pumps in Latin America and elsewhere can irrigate once infertile land and offers villagers the opportunity to become economically self-sufficient.

 

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