Cut Out the Middlemen & Get Your Energy Straight from the Sun
In fact, all of the fossil fuel energy sources we use originated with light radiated from our sun
The number one thing you and I can do right now to slow down America‘s right-wing fossil fuel billionaires and Putin is to drive an electric car. We need to kick our addiction to ancient sunlight.
The Guardian reports on a new, just-published study: “A speedy nationwide transition to electric vehicles powered by renewable energy would save more than 100,000 American lives and $1.2tn in public health costs over the next three decades…”
When it comes to energy and physics, we humans tend to unnecessarily complicate things. Which not only leads to stupid energy decisions but also to things like oligarchs, dictators and wars.
Let’s simplify things with a quick Science 101 lesson on energy. It starts with this:
Virtually all energy on the surface of the Earth originates in a massive fusion reaction 93 million miles from us deep in the star we call the Sun. (The exceptions are the heat deep below the surface, and the kinetic energy of the Earth’s rotation.)
No sun, no energy at the surface of the Earth. No energy, no life.
Most of interstellar space is cold, dark, and devoid of what we generally call “life.” There’s energy out there: the nuclear forces binding subatomic particles together as atoms, gravity gripping everything from dust particles to planets, faint echoes of electromagnetic energy from distant stars.
But none of it is strong or concentrated enough to create or sustain what we call life.
In the beginning, at least for Earth, there was light. That light and heat energy from our sun drove chemical reactions in our oceans that produced the building blocks of life, which then became increasingly complex life forms.
After a billion or so years, the earliest ancestors of plants emerged, capable of directly capturing energy from the sun and using it to drive, through a process called photosynthesis, chemical reactions that bound up some of that solar energy.
Raw carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen were combined together to create an entire spectrum of carbo-hydrates ranging from simple sugars to the complex carbohydrates that make up the bodies of plants.
All of those carbohydrates and other substances that make up a living organisms were synthesized using energy from the sun captured by plants.
When those carbohydrate molecules are later torn back apart (“burned”), the original sunlight energy they stored through the chemical processes driven by photosynthesis is released: they warm our homes and power our cars.
When you’re sitting around a campfire, you’re watching the liberation of sunlight captured by trees that used that sunlight energy to combine carbon, hydrogen and oxygen from the atmosphere (along with a few minerals drawn up from the soil – what’s left over as “ash” after burning).
In fact, all of the fossil fuel energy sources we use originated with sunlight radiated from our sun.
Plants captured that energy millions of years ago and used it to grow their own bodies. Those plants eventually died and, over time, were buried deep in the Earth where they formed deposits of coal, oil, and natural gas.
When we burn them, we’re liberating the sunlight energy (and carbon, hydrogen and oxygen) that those plants had captured hundreds of millions of years ago.
Up until a few hundred years ago, virtually all of humanity lived on “current sunlight”: light captured by plants like trees that we burned for heat and to drive our machines.
Over the past few centuries, though, we’ve turned to the more ancient plants — fossil fuels — liberating their “ancient sunlight.”
But it’s all sunlight, and was all captured by plants through photosynthesis.
Just in the past few decades, though, we’ve learned how to efficiently imitate plants and capture sunlight directly with machines we call solar panels.
We’ve also gotten really good at capturing the wind energy of the Earth, most derived from the spinning of our planet but also driven by patterns of heat absorbed from the sun.
These are fantastically more efficient than digging up 260-million-year-old plants and burning them to release ancient sunlight.
Just think about it. You could put up some solar panels and charge your car and drive around all day for free. You’d be taking the sunlight power directly from the sun and putting it into your car with no plants (and no fossil fuel industry) as middlemen.
No need to wait millions of years for those plants to decompose and form fossil fuels.
No need to then ignite them with sparkplugs inside piston/cylinder combustion chambers.
No need to convert what you can grab from the energy of those explosions and turn it into continuously rotating power feeding a drivetrain.
No need to have an exhaust system to rid yourself of the poisonous combustion byproducts.
No need to have a radiator and water pump to get rid of the excess heat that can’t be converted into motion.
Even when you plug your car into your home (if you don’t have solar panels), you’ll be converting your utility’s electric energy directly into motion in the motors in your wheels.
No explosions, no heat, no toxic exhaust; none of the ways internal combustion engines waste energy.
And the hundreds of moving parts in gas and diesel engines are eliminated, including the need for tuneups and oil changes, making service a breeze. Basically, all you do is rotate the tires from time to time.
It’s why it’s so much cheaper to drive an electric car regardless of where you live. And now many new EV prices ($27,400 for a Nissan Leaf, for example) are even below the US average ($38,700) for gas-powered cars.
Don’t bother using a search engine to try to find this information, though. Fossil fuels are a multi-trillion-dollar industry, and US taxpayers — you and me — subsidized that industry to the tune of over $600 billion last year.
The International Monetary Fund calculates worldwide subsidies for fossil fuels at $5.9 trillion in 2020: that’s $11 million a minute.
The fossil fuel industry then uses part of their subsidies and profits to fund and field an army of websites trashing EVs, all carefully calibrated to grab search engines.
After all, if people understood how energy really works, the fossil fuel billionaires might become mere hundred-millionaires…and they’re not about to allow that to happen.
The simple reality is that, using gasoline at last month’s prices, it costs about $14 to travel 100 miles in the average car, but using electricity purchased at full retail prices by plugging into your home, it costs only about $5.
But don’t bother asking a search engine how much cheaper it is to drive an electric vehicle versus a fossil-fuel-powered one: you’ll just be overwhelmed with websites filled with misleading statistics from industry-funded think tanks arguing against electric vehicles or solar energy for your home.
Which is why I wrote this article for you.
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Thanks, Thom, for another superb Report ! Very good to remind us all that we depend on the sun for our energy--past and/ or present. I'd like to take your wonderful topic in the direction of American consumers and Putin's War--and what WE each can do to address both critical issues TODAY. I live off-grid, have a nearly 20-year-old hybrid Honda Civic that gets about 50 mpg--the best car I've ever owned in my 75 years--, and wonder why we don't have a nationwide movement to reduce our gas consumption (& thus decrease Putin's income) via ride sharing, using mass transit, and buying EV's or more efficient gas-engine vehicles? Instead of wasting our time blaming gas companies for ripping us off at the pump--which they are doing!--, why don't we consumers take the initiative to stop giving them our money? Cutting our use of fossil fuels that produce the global-warming gases you very clearly outlined in your Report today would also help protect our home...planet Earth...TODAY...instead of waiting for the Build Back Better bill that won't ever see the light of day. And, as you also mentioned, the use of alternative sources of energy--wind, solar, and even hydro (like I have)--is cheaper and will reduce pressure on today's household budgets in this "inflationary period." Instead of blaming President Biden for high gas prices (over which he has no control--but gas companies do), we could reduce the costs ourselves by making better choices in our modes of transportation, sources of energy, volume of consumption, etc. By lowering our consumption of fossil fuels, we would also reduce the demand for them worldwide.... thus driving down the price of oil worldwide....and thereby reducing the cost of what little we would then use here in the USA. I see a win-win-win-win-win all around: fight Putin & his War on Ukraine by cutting his fossil-fuel income; relieve pressure on household budgets; stop blaming Biden for things he can't control--and thus fight the Repugs who are blaming him for their own political purposes; and SAVE THE PLANET--our home. And last, we would each be a significant participant in converting our fossil-fuel economy into a clean-energy economy--without waiting for our dysfunctional Congress. How wonderful would that be? Fantastic, I say ! Yes, let's cut out the middlemen, fight Putin's War, save money, prove the fossil-fuel billionaires irrelevant, and save our planet--all at once ! What say you....?
So please excuse my not being informed about this. What about lithium used for car and cell phone batteries? Is that the element we are taking from the earth in third world countries, and not just there? Have I not heard of the robbing of Peter, or excuse me, something more abusive, to pay/please Paul? And, familiar as you are with indigenous living, are we on the way to returning to the earth that which we should not have taken? I know it’s all going to take some time, but should we be at least speaking of these sacred practices, once known, in our relationship with the land? And, to minimize our past mistaken footprints are we now recycling these batteries properly?
I am probably way behind on all of this.