Solar Reflections

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1994. All rights reserved.

"Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun."
Ecclesiastes 7

The pines and aspen stands look black in the half-light of dawn. A thick white frost blankets the windshield. My truck's V-8 is reluctant to turn over; it would rather be left alone this cold morning, I think.

Frost-Covered White Birch Trees with the Sun Rising Behind I let the engine idle, sending up white plumes of exhaust in the chilled air, as I wait for the windshield to defrost.

In the meantime, the sun crests the hills to the east and its rays scatter into the valley. They filter through the limbs of trees and fall against the windshield. And before the fossil fuels burning in the V-8 can warm the cab, solar heat has done the job. My view ahead has cleared.

Fifteen minutes since sunrise and already the chill is broken and the frosted trees are dripping dew. In that time the sun has spilled as much energy on this Earth as we humans will consume all year.

In fact, if all the Earth's fuels -- petroleum, wood, coal, etc. -- were lumped together and burned at the rate the sun emits energy they would last, at best, four days.
What a bounteous source of power, this sun! Would that I could pry open my truck's gas cap and pump it in: fill it up with light, please!
The promise of solar energy has been homilized since I was in grade school. By now, 1994, we imagined we'd be driving solar cars and flying in solar planes. Photovoltaic cells were going to make conventional fuels obsolete.

The photovoltaic cell, a miraculous chip of treated silicon, was supposed to give rise to the solar age. Expose it to sunlight and its electrons go crazy, forming an electrical current.
There has been some solar progress. Rooftop water heaters are no longer uncommon and passive solar construction is a design prerequisite in some areas.

Our local power company leased its first photovoltaic (PV) system to a remote ranch last summer and it is now supplying energy for stock watering pumps and household appliances.

Today we have solar-powered calculators and clocks and outdoor lighting systems. Sales of PV chips have increased dramatically in recent years and their price is less than half of what it was in 1980. Even so, the cost of solar power is still several times more expensive than hydropower or fossil fuels.
Which explains, as I shift into gear and turn down the visor against the solar glare, why this truck still drives on gasoline

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