It's free: But we don't use it.
Back in 2006 some very clever people using some very clever techniques worked out how much solar energy is available here on earth. I haven't even tried to comprehend the technicalities but I did get my head around one of the facts presented. More energy, in the form of solar radiation, reaches the surface of the earth in one hour than the entire world uses in one year. That's not far off 10,000 times more energy available - free - than we use.
In 2011, the International Energy Agency said that "the development of affordable, inexhaustible and clean solar energy technologies will have huge longer-term benefits. It will increase countries' energy security through reliance on an indigenous, inexhaustible, and mostly import-independent resource, enhance sustainability, reduce pollution, lower the costs of mitigating global warming, and keep fossil fuel prices lower than otherwise."
Seems sensible to me. Yet, even though great strides are being made technologically, towards this energy utopia, in practical terms it seems like a long road. Why is this? My guess is that the answer is momentum.
Since the Industrial Revolution the wheels of commerce have been powered by fossil fuels.Of course we now know that fossil fuels represent an inefficient, unhealthy, environmentally damaging approach to power generation, but at the time that's what was available. In the present day we have the knowledge and ability to generate power from clean, renewable sources but we are still dealing with the massive momentum of the 'old way'. International corporations have grown, gargantuan fortunes have been made, and vast infrastructures have developed around fossil fuels. So there are two reasons why things are not going to change overnight: One is the sheer logistical challenge of deconstructing a system which has developed over the last two hundred years, and replacing it with a new one. The other is the aforementioned international corporations. The people in charge of these entities are unlikely to say "OK, looks like the rules have changed, let's drop everything and spend all the money we've got re-inventing ourselves to be clean and green in the next five minutes."
Realistically, neither of those things is going to happen.
But look at what is happening. Countries and companies (well, some of them) are recognizing the need for action. BP, for one, have declared their ambition to be carbon neutral by 2050. As a company which started in 1908 they have been building their brand on fossil fuels for well over 100 years. Now they have pledged to turn it all around inside 30 years. Granted that may not be soon enough - but it's a start. In fact, I suspect that the time frame for change will shorten as the impending consequences of inaction become ever more dire.
In our own quests, as individuals, to make a difference, let's not forget that without customers no business can survive. Perhaps we, the consumers, can expedite the changes by supporting businesses which are genuinely committed to being better global and environmental citizens.