On Christmas Eve 1968, NASA astronaut Bill Anders, orbiting the moon on board Apollo 8, took the first photo of Earth rising over the horizon of another celestial body. Known as Earthrise, that photo is widely regarded as one of the most iconic photos of the 20th Century and is believed by many to have been the impetus for launching the environmental movement.

Whether or not that’s the case, less than 16 months later the first Earth Day was celebrated on April 22, 1970.

April 22, 2015, the 45th anniversary of Earth Day, inspires me. Looking at the Earthrise photo and seeing our planet — our home — alone in the vast blackness of space, moves me to contemplate the power of the sun to illuminate and power the Earth. At the same time, I’m left pondering the fact that, despite dramatic increases in recent years, solar energy still provides only three-tenths of one percent of the total energy consumed in the United States and a similar amount globally.

While some have projected that the entire globe could be powered by solar panels covering a relatively small land area, the associated costs and time necessary to reach that level make such an effort almost incomprehensible. Instead, on Earth Day, I’d rather share some of the unique ways in which solar energy is already being used around the globe, celebrate them, and imagine the potential for even more. In just the past few weeks, I’ve seen amazing stories on solar implementation and ongoing research:

As we study these new methods of exploiting the energy of the sun, we owe a debt of gratitude to Bill Anders for inspiring us.

Floating Solar

In California’s Napa Valley, where land is expensive and you certainly don’t want to cover vineyards with solar panels, Far Niente winery has a floating, grid-connected solar array in an irrigation pond. According to a recent San Francisco television report, output from the array “is nearly four times what the winery uses on a daily basis, meaning the power meter is spinning backward pretty quickly.” In addition, the shade over the water created by the panels reduces evaporation from the pond – a tremendous benefit in the current drought – and “the proximity to the water also keeps the panels cooler and more efficient than they would otherwise be.”

Flying Solar

With the goal of generating enthusiasm about renewable energy sources and proving that modern technology can be adapted in a way that will not contribute further to pollution, a solar powered plane, Solar Impulse 2, is in the midst of a flight around the world without using a drop of conventional fuel. While the plane is fairly primitive, the Solar Impulse team hopes that research gathered from this flight will lead to improved technology that can be developed further in the future.

In The Spotlight

Solar Fish

As part of the Sun Lights the Way: Brightening Boucan Carré project, Trina Solar, the Solar Electric Light Fund, NRG Energy and the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, installed a solar array at the Lashto Fish Farm in Haiti. Solar powered aerators in six fish tanks have resulted in a dramatic increase in fish production. “In two years we went from a mere 100,000 pounds of fish to over 1,000,000 pounds of fish,” according to Haiti Fish Development Project CEO Valentin Abe.

Solar Art

German designer Markus Kayser has demonstrated tremendous possibility with his Solar Sinter, which uses solar energy to melt desert sand and make art pieces — which could also be used as household goods — in a 3D printer.

Wow! Solar energy powering a winery, an airplane, a fish farm, and a 3D printer. Building on what I wrote in this space on Earth Day 2014, these are just a few of the thousands of interesting uses of solar energy around the globe.

As we study these new methods of exploiting the energy of the sun, we owe a debt of gratitude to Bill Anders for inspiring us. While Anders was anxiously waiting for fellow astronaut Jim Lovell to hand him color film to try and get the now famous Earthrise photo, he was heard saying, “I think we missed it.”

Let’s use this 45th anniversary of Earth Day to recommit ourselves to seizing the opportunity to continue to harness the power of the sun for ever more diversified uses. Like Anders, we don’t want to miss the chance.


Bob Bissen
About The Author Bob Bissen
Bob Bissen, a government relations and public affairs practitioner, is Senior Vice President at Cannae Policy Group in Washington, DC, and Founder and President of RJB Strategies in Annandale, VA. He was included in The Hill newspaper list of top lobbyists in 2019 and 2020.

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