If I were to ask you who said: “I have seen the future and it works”, many would probably struggle to guess who the clever so-and-so was and why should I be asking such a question anyway?
Well, it’s not because there’s a big gap to fill here. For some reason I thought it was H.G. Wells after a trip to the Soviet Union, when he had been entertained and shown what the regime wanted western celebrities of the time to see. In fact, it was an American journalist called Lincoln Joseph Steffens who later revised the optimistic pronouncement and threw his weight behind Roosevelt’s New Deal as a realistic alternative.
But the reason for mentioning that famous quote was what occurred this week with the inaugural flight of the first solar powered plane to try and travel round the world. Solar Impulse-2 took off from Abu Dhabi, heading east to Muscat in Oman in what will be an historic five-month journey. In seeing this slow plane taking off in the Middle East, we should recognise this is the harnessing of what many believe will be the cheapest of energy sources that will have a direct benefit for us all in every aspect of our lives.
Solar Impulse-2 is possibly of greater importance than the first powered flight by the Wright brothers in December 1903. Within 20 years, planes were used in war and for commercial and personal flights, transforming the way we saw travel.
So, why should we feel any excitement in the fenestration sector? It is simply that as the costs fall and technology advances, the possibilities for solar energy become almost boundless. Any visitor to glasstec every two years in Germany or Glass Performance Days (GPD) in Finland, can see the enormous strides being made in this sector.
Solar panels on roofs may be an eyesore but we already have photovoltaic cells as part of the fabric of buildings. In this sense, solar energy offers more to the built environment than any other source.
If you wanted proof of that, look at the latest set of figures. A report released by the German think tank, Agora Energiewende, predicts that solar energy is set to become the cheapest source of electricity in many parts of the world within the next 10 years, with the cost of photovoltaics (solar panels) continuing to decline.
It believes that in some parts of the world, solar energy will become cheaper than the ‘heavily subsidised’ fossil fuel energy, says a report. “The technology still has further improvements so we expect that within the next 10 years photovoltaics will become, in many regions of the world, the cheapest source of electricity,” said Dr Patrick Graichen, Chief Executive, Agora Energiewende. “The finding is there’s no end to the cost decline in photovoltaics.” (Solar photovoltaic prices have fallen by 80% since 2008.)
The pagan world recognised the importance of the sun in the scheme of things and even that great English painter, Turner, said it all on his deathbed when his last words were: “The sun is God.” It’s time to side with the pagans…and Turner.
Caption The future’s bright, the future’s 93 million miles away. But it’s a source of energy that we can all benefit from. Our image shows Turner’s famous painting – The Fighting Temeraire – which depicts three great sources of energy on one canvas – wind, steam and solar.