'One argument put forward in defense of fossil fuels is that they were a
historical necessity, because there was no other viable substitute for much of
the 20th century. We owe fossil fuels a debt of gratitude, the argument goes,
because they supercharged our development. But what if I told you there was a
viable alternative, and that it may have been sabotaged by fossil fuel
interests from its very inception?
While researching the economics of clean energy innovation, I came across a
little-known story: that of Canadian inventor George Cove, one of the world's
first renewable energy entrepreneurs. Cove invented household solar panels that
looked uncannily similar to the ones being installed in homes today—they even
had a rudimentary battery to keep power running when the sun wasn't shining.
Except this wasn't in the 1970s. Or even the 1950s. This was in 1905.
Cove's company, Sun Electric Generator Corporation, based in New York, was
capitalized at US$5 million (around US$160 million in today's money). By 1909,
the idea had gained widespread media attention. Modern Electric
highlighted how "given two days' sun… [the device] will store sufficient
electrical energy to light an ordinary house for a week."
It noted how cheap solar energy could liberate people from poverty, "bringing
them cheap light, heat and power, and freeing the multitude from the constant
struggle for bread." The piece went on to speculate how even airplanes could be
powered by batteries charged by the sun. A clean energy future seemed to be
there for the taking.'
Via Christoph S, who wrote "This is definitely [an] interesting story and
*** Xanni ***
Chief Scientist, Xanadu
Partner, Glass Wings
Manager, Serious Cybernetics