The idea that all energy sources are in competition with one another has bothered me for some time. It seems the arguments are all about solar vs. hydroelectric vs. wind vs. petroleum vs. (insert your favorite here). I submit there may be an argument that all of them are actually solar power. In short, every source of energy on the planet is the result of solar energy being stored for later use, just like a giant battery. May we consider the following as examples of solar energy in its various forms?
Solar panels capture photons of light that are directly converted to electric current to be used immediately or stored in a battery for later distribution. This is the most direct use of solar energy and what most people consider "solar power."
Hydro electric power, in use since antiquity, leverages water's tendency flow down hill. Humans discovered in ancient times if we channel and focus the energy, stored in high altitude lakes we could leverage its power. In modern times a dam is built and water flow is directed through a turbine of some kind to generate electricity. If you consider that water is deposited in a high altitude lake as the result of solar energy evaporating water at lower elevations and condensing it at a higher elevation, its potential energy is purely the result of solar energy; just one step removed.
Wind power, used for millennia, is a method of capturing natural air movements and harnessing it as a source of power. As air passes through the blades of a wind mill it is converted to mechanical energy which turns a generator generating electricity that is distributed to where it is needed. What we call wind is nothing more than air that is forced to move due to the heating and cooling cycle caused by solar energy. As the sun bombs One part of the planet with heat other parts are cool. Because hot air rises, cool air sinks the results is air movement on the planet. Again, it is solar energy just one or two steps removed from the source.
Petroleum created when plants absorb energy from the sun. Through photosynthesis plants absorb sunlight energy and use it to convert carbon and hydrogen into the hydrocarbon atoms that feed their biological processes. As plants die they become part of the biomass that is under our feet. Over time the dead plants are covered with soil, compressed, heated and processed to become what we know as oil, coal and shale. Over time plants become the condensed and highly concentrated hydrocarbons that fuel our economy. This too is a form of solar energy just several times removed from the source.
Consider that even wood is a source of solar power. For thousands of years people have used wood as a fuel source. This just shortens the process by one step as compared to using hydrocarbons. It is a source that is only a couple of steps removed from the solar energy emanating from our sun.
An argument can even be made that nuclear power and geothermal started with a burst of energy from the sun in the beginning of time. As the planets were forming the sun sent huge amounts of energy and heavy elements into the core of our earth. What we know of as nuclear fuel is but the remnants of that formation process. This is, possibly the oldest source of solar energy.
Here is the point. As with any energy source there is a finite amount available, even if it is millions of years worth. If we deplete the source faster than it is replenished the "battery" will run dry and our economy will grind to a halt. As we engage in conversation about the future of our energy needs it makes sense to me that we strive to discover the longest lived source of energy with the least damage long term impact so we can all enjoy the benefits and abundance that our planet offers.
Could there be some benefit from all advocates gathering together under one banner to find the best solution to our energy needs? I leave it up to them to consider this question and make a decision on how to leverage their time and effort.