Friday, March 4, 2011
Perspective as a barrier to change
The world appears flat to us in most circumstances. We don't feel as if we’re walking on a big ball or sense the movement of the earth as it spins. The sun rises in the east, traces a path in the sky, and sets in the west in the evening. Ocean tides come in and go out, driven by some unseen force.
We know that all these observations are merely distortions of perspective. The earth is a sphere in constant motion. The sun is our solar system's focal point so in essence one of the only fixed points that we can see with our eyes. The gravitational pull of the sun and the moon interact with the fluid in the ocean to cause the tidal flow.
Our perspective on energy is skewed just as it is in regards to the natural world. We’ve come to think that all useful energy must come from burning something, vigorous motion, or some sort of huge facility. The delicate, subtle or quiet forces around us don't really hold our interest. The solar energy that reaches us here on the surface of the earth is diffused and diluted yet available across the entire planet. It’s predictable. It’s uninterruptible by political or social forces. We have come to realize in the last 50 years that unimaginable quantities of energy are found in the sunlight that brightens our world each day. Fortunately, we live in a time when engineers and idealists have collaborated, and we can now begin to tap into this abundant resource.
Before any change occurs, it’s hard to imagine anything other than the status quo. Gasoline for our cars, coal generation plants for our electricity, and natural gas for heating our homes is what we know. Just as cell phones, the internet, internal combustion engines, and refrigerated food revolutionized our way of life when they came onto the scene, distributed solar energy systems are poised to change our way of life next. Today we ask what anyone ever did with a slide rule. Tomorrow we’ll ask why we needed to pollute our environment just to turn on a light bulb.