Select your localized edition:

Close ×

More Ways to Connect

Discover one of our 28 local entrepreneurial communities »

Be the first to know as we launch in new countries and markets around the globe.

Interested in bringing MIT Technology Review to your local market?

MIT Technology ReviewMIT Technology Review - logo

 

Unsupported browser: Your browser does not meet modern web standards. See how it scores »

{ action.text }

One weakness of solar power is its intermittency. But photo-voltaic panels in geostationary orbit could be positioned to receive constant sunlight and thereby furnish the earth with a reliable stream of electricity. They should be the focus of experiments on the scale of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor scheduled to be built in France. Unlike fusion, space-solar technologies – including wireless power transmission – are well understood. The aesthetics, like those of offshore wind turbines, are contentious. But for me, the image of a ring of sun-reflecting solar-power satellites in the night sky evokes Yeats’s “golden apples of the sun” – humankind’s coming of age on star power. On Earth, we need entirely new electrical grids that are “smart,” store excess power, and minimize resistance to enable transmission of renewable but intermittent energy across continents.

There’s much more that can be done to promote “green” homes and offices through a more enlightened federal policy. Mass public exhibits of creative sun- and wind-powered technology, buildings, and communities could stimulate consumer demand in the way that General Motors’ “Futurama” exhibit at the 1939 World’s Fair created demand for cars and parkways and, by extension, suburban homes.

The late Nobel laureate Rick Smalley observed that even though our civilization has many problems, energy is central to all of them. Questions that begin “What is…?” are often the wrong ones; the better question is “What could possibly be?” Spurred by World War II, the United States went from biplanes to jets, from laboratory U-235 fission to Hiroshima, from microwaves to radar – all in less than a decade. The coming battle for a sustainable energy infrastructure will require every bit as much a team effort from government, researchers, and industry. We know where we must go eventually. Why not head there now?

Marty Hoffert is professor emeritus of physics at New York University.

34 comments. Share your thoughts »

Tagged: Energy

Reprints and Permissions | Send feedback to the editor

From the Archives

Close

Introducing MIT Technology Review Insider.

Already a Magazine subscriber?

You're automatically an Insider. It's easy to activate or upgrade your account.

Activate Your Account

Become an Insider

It's the new way to subscribe. Get even more of the tech news, research, and discoveries you crave.

Sign Up

Learn More

Find out why MIT Technology Review Insider is for you and explore your options.

Show Me