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[Photo of sunrise over Mediterranean, Adrasan, Turkey.]

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The Solar Resource: Dawn over the Mediterranean
Adrasan, Turkey

Photo: Michael Ross, RER Renewable Energy Research

The sun isn't what it used to be. Modern society orients its buildings in any which direction, artificial lights permit a round-the-clock economy, and the notion of an intermittently available energy source strikes most people as impossibly inconvenient. The sun is for lying on the beach, for suntanning, an excuse to wear shades.

But perhaps a beautiful sunrise can summon the awe and reverence that our ancestors rightly felt for the sun. When the ancient Greek philosopher Anaxagoras proposed that the sun, seen here rising over the Mediterranean near Mt. Olympus, was a giant flaming ball of metal even larger than Peleponessus, and not the chariot of Helios, so great was his heresy that he was sentenced to death.

We forget that the sun is the ultimate source of nearly all the energy humans make use of: not just renewables like solar and wind power, but hydropower, oil, coal, and natural gas are all derived from solar energy. The only exceptions are nuclear power, geothermal systems tapping into the heat from deep within the planet, and tidal power systems.

The energy in the solar radiation that reaches the earth's surface in a year is thousands of times the total annual energy consumption of the human race. There is no region of the planet where solar energy is not available at least some of the time.

Historically, human energy usage has been based on the sustainable use of solar energy. We presently live in an aberrant period when this is not the case. Our future is indisputably to revert to the sustainable use of solar energy, not least because our oil, gas, coal, and even fissile material (nuclear feedstock) are very limited resources. It is only a matter of time; until then, we ravage the planet and undermine its life-support systems with a short-sighted barbarism that our children, and their children, will never forgive.

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