top of page

Exploring the Mystery of Solar’s History with John Perlin, Physics Dept. UC Santa Barbara

John Perlin, Physics Dept of UC Santa Barbara

Welcome to another episode of The Solar Podcast. Today, Dave is joined by John Perlin, solar historian, author, and physicist at UC Santa Barbara. Join us for a fascinating conversation on the 6,000-year history of solar energy, its unlimited potential, and its importance in creating a sustainable future. It all starts now, on The Solar Podcast.

Dave Anderson (00:28):

I'd like to welcome everyone back to The Solar Podcast. This is Dave Anderson, I'm the host. I'm thrilled to have with me today, John Perlin. John is a professor, he's an author, he's an outdoorsman and an environmental enthusiast. And maybe most interesting for this podcast, he's also a solar historian. I'm going to want to dive into that a little bit to understand really what it means to be a scientist and a historian at the same time, where I think science usually is fairly forward-looking. A lot of your career has been spent looking in the past, at things that we've learned over time and really trying to build a chronology of the history of trying to capture energy from the sun. So John, welcome to the podcast. I'd love you to fill in any holes for our listeners that I missed out on.

John Perlin (01:06):

Yeah, well, first of all, I hope you'll mention the book, Let It Shine: The 6,000-Year Story of Solar Energy. And second of all, as a scientist, history is extremely important because the history provides a foundation for understanding all the solar technologies in a way that the layperson can better understand because it provides a story rather than just a technical treatise. But included in the book is everything you'd want to know for a current application. In fact, one of my tasks of the University of California, Santa Barbara has been to oversee the solarization of the campus with today's technology. But knowing how it works is very important to creating the best solar choices today.

In fact, people are very interested asking, "Well, how many ways can we use solar energy?" And showing the history shows that first of all, it's a tried and true technology. But second of all, explaining the differences between, for example, solar thermal and say photovoltaics because one uses the heat of the sun, the other uses what's called the energy of the sun. And to understand the history of how people were able to bifurcate the two different aspects explains how to design a collector today.

Dave Anderson (02:54):

Yeah. John, obviously we want to talk about your most recent book, The 6,000-Year Story of the Solar Energy. You are an author of four different books, and so we might delve into different parts of each of those books. But yeah, I'm hoping that you can tease us with some more information that comes from that book. Obviously, we want to understand, as this is a solar podcast, we talk about how we harness the energy typically through the photovoltaic side. But it is great to talk about the history, the 6,000-year history as you put it in your book, different applications and uses of the sun. So I'd love to explore that a little bit, but I have to pause for just a second and note that right behind you, and I don't know if it's a prop or if it's just that's its natural resting place, but I see your bike there. So you certainly are practicing what you preach. As I understand, you're not an owner of a motor vehicle. Is that correct?

John Perlin (03:41):

No. I'm an owner of a motor vehicle in about 20 years.

Dave Anderson (03:44):

Yeah. What made you transition away from having a car? Just decided it there was no utility in having one or what made you transition away from having a vehicle?

John Perlin (03:53):

Well, I always did my bike, but about 20 years ago, I was actually a parent and usually me and my son took the bus and things like that. But at times, I had to drive him places. But we mainly walk, and my son actually now has his PhD in organic chemistry and bicycling as I find the best speed to live at.

Dave Anderson (04:31):

Yeah, no, I appreciate that.

John Perlin (04:33):

Plus, this keeps me in shape. I mean, I do at least 8,000 steps a day and climb according to my iPhone, 30 stories.

Dave Anderson (04:43):

Yeah, that's excellent. And then spend some time on the bike as well, which is fantastic.

John Perlin (04:47):


Dave Anderson (04:48):

Jumping back into the book, so the 6,000-Year History, maybe you can start us out with what were some of the first and applications or uses that individuals or civilizations found for the sun? Obviously we heat and light, but more specifically, what were some of the applications that you talk about in your book?

John Perlin (05:06):

Well, actually, the major breakthrough was to determine where the sun is during the year because most people think that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, but this is only true two times a year in the equinoxes. Otherwise, it's depending on the season. In the wintertime, it's either it rises in the southeast and sets in the southwest. And I must preface, this is for the Northern Hemisphere. In the Southern Hemisphere, it's just the opposite. So you want a house facing and between 10 and two every day of the year, the sun is in the south above us, depending on where you are. I mean, obviously in the Nordic countries where you don't have any sun for three or four months, the year, this doesn't apply. But to know where the sun is and the Chinese thousands of years ago developed what was called a gnomon, which was a stick in the ground.

And from that shadow, you could tell the changes of the sun during the year, and then you could learn how to build correctly. And like I said earlier, the history is applicable because only if you know where the sun is, can you place a solar collector properly, whether it's a heat collector or whether it's a photovoltaic collector. I mean, if you put your photovoltaic collector, for example, in the north, you're not going to get any action. And also, depending on how you want to collect the sun's energy, for example, in California, people are more interested in the southwest, because for the times of the year when the load is the most, you want to catch that setting sun in the evening to offset the time when people come home and start using electric appliances. The biggest invention ever was to be able to determine in a scientific way where the sun is during the entire year. And that enabled from that time on where to say, orient a house, for example, or how to orient a solar electric cell.

Dave Anderson (08:06):

Yeah. Obviously there are a handful of things that go into determining where and how to place a solar panel, whether it's photovoltaic or thermal. The modeling software has come a long way from a perpendicular stick in the ground, of course. And when we're taking into account how much electricity production can you get from a solar panel, and then you juxtapose that against, or you put it against the offset. So it's both the terms of cost as well as in terms of kilowatt-hours, you try to figure out how to maximize both the efficiency and the value of a solar panel. And with the time of use rates that exist in California on the residential side, placing those solar panels is actually a pretty precise science at this point. And the modeling software that we use has made it pretty efficient with fantastic modeling to be able to really derive and deduce what is the best place to put a solar panel.

And I think that there's a lot of actually misnomers about that. I mean, obviously, no matter which side of the house you're standing on, there's definitely some sun, but there's a sunnier spot and a less sunny spot. And solar panels cost the same if you put them in the sunny spots or the shady spots. So we try to put them in the sunny spots, of course. And there's as much as a 30 or 40% reduction to the energy, depending on what latitude you're on. If you're putting panels on the north versus putting them on the south, facing the sun.

John Perlin (09:17):

You're very correct. So what the book does is, for example, solar thermal is actually still quite in use throughout the world. This is a misunderstanding, it's not all photovoltaic. For example, in Denmark and Sweden, you have a tremendous amount of production of solar thermal panels for what they call district heating. Because in the wintertime when you don't have the sun, if you have storage for say a long term, you can store that heat for those homes. So some of the biggest manufacturing of panels happens with solar thermal. And in China too, the use of thermal panels is very large. And also in the Mediterranean, in Turkey, in Israel, and in Cyprus and in Greece, you have a high percentage of people using solar water heaters that originated in the 19th century in California and basically used the same design. And so, the history is very relevant.

Dave Anderson (10:40):

Yeah, there was a period of time in California, in fact, the really early predecessors to the current PV, the photovoltaic movement that exists in California, there was a pretty strong thermal movement that happened mostly in the '80s. There were some pretty big subsidies that came about, and we would see these pretty quite large panels that would typically have copper tubing and then some sort of a laminate that would cover the copper tubing, and it would heat up the water that you'd pump up onto the roof, and then you could use that for home water.

You don't see those quite as often in California, but what you do still see the black tubing like panels that are up on people's roofs, particularly in California and some of the warmer climates that's used to actually heat pools more than anything now. But there's lots of applications. But let's rewind a little bit for further back into the past. So we had the gnomon, which was the vertical stick that was stuck in the ground 4,000 years ago. In terms of the history of the world, where did we progress from the gnomon?

John Perlin (11:41):

Well, first of all, according to the leading science historian, Thomas Kuhn, the gnomon was probably the most important invention ever developed for our understandings of astronomy ever. It leapfrogged science into a more empirical mindset. But what it led to were two things. One was solar concentrators. Where in China, thousands of years ago, almost every home had a solar concentrator to start the evening fire because until the 19th century, people had to use friction to create a dinner fire, for example. And that is a very laborious activity. And actually, this still pertains to today now that I think about it, the reason why we eat, or at least in the Mediterranean, the biggest meal is early afternoon. And that was because in the past, people used the concentrator to create the fire for the dinner fire, which the best time was the early afternoon.

So we see solar concentrators as a very early development. But one other development that was even more important was what we call solar architecture, where we build houses to keep the sun out during the summertime, but allow the sun to stream in during the wintertime. And we find the use of solar architecture in almost every city was actually planned, so every house could use the sun. And this occurred on a huge scale, both in ancient China, Ancient Rome, and Ancient Greece, and during what we call the Middle Ages.

Dave Anderson (13:59):

There's still a version of that exists. So I live in the Rocky Mountains now, so I'm recording this from Salt Lake City area, and south facing homes are still fairly desirable, particularly right now. So as at the time of this recording, over my shoulder, you can likely see the white cap mountains. We've had a pretty big snow year this year. And for those that are not huge fans of snow removal, those south facing driveways are far more economical in terms of removing the sun than the north facing ones that have typically had snow on them. The north sides of the house typically keep snow pretty much year round.

The south side of the house, the snow, at least in this climate, tends to melt off from the day sun or the sun at the daylight. So if you don't like removing snow, most people don't, here in Salt Lake in this area, and lots of parts of the Rockies where you see a lot of snow is those southern facing houses become very desirable by purchasers just because simply they want their driveways to be cleared off by the sun as opposed to having constantly shovel them.

John Perlin (15:00):

So not being a native of California born and raised here, had never having to occupy myself with snow. I have a question. Do a lot of people use a power unit to remove the snow from their driveways?

Dave Anderson (15:21):

Yeah, I wish that were true. So I would say some of the higher end homes in the Rocky Mountains and areas with snow use some form of coiling or wiring or radiators under the driveway to actually melt snow off the driveway. But for the most part, it's a very mechanical process. You go out there with a shovel and you push snow out of the way.

John Perlin (15:41):

Okay. Well, pardon my ignorance, because I've never ever shoveled snow.

Dave Anderson (15:47):

Yeah. Well, it's interesting. I spent a lot of time in California, and there was a period of time, particularly early days, where customers would express concerns about putting solar panels on the fronts of their home. And so, I would say a lot of residential resellers of solar would oftentimes target homes or talk to homes that were north facing, knowing that the panels would go on the back of the home that would be south facing. Compare that to here again, in the Rocky Mountains and other areas that get a lot of snow. Homes that are south facing are pretty desirable. So it's a totally different mindset for totally different reasons, but all related to the sun, interestingly. It's depending on whether you're in California and you're trying to harness the sun or whether in the Rocky Mountains and trying to melt the snow.

John Perlin (16:27):

Well, one of the interesting tidbits that I discovered as I wrote the book that actually in California in the 1980s, the only successful commercial use of solar was in pool heating. It runs very much against the grain of our thoughts, but there's actually a company named FAFCO that made a fortune designing low temperature panels because it had several advantages. The first advantage is that you had storage because the pool served as storage, you had the storage for the water already there. And two, the lower heat that the panels absorbed was more efficiently used because you had less thermodynamically a loss of heat.

Dave Anderson (17:31):

Yeah. No, that's absolutely right. So FAFCO panels still exist in the marketplace today. So you can see them actually and find them at a lot of places where you can see pools, you'll see those. They're typically 8, 10, or 12 feet long and about four feet wide, and they look like black tarps up on the roof with piping that goes to it, and they pump the panels up onto the panels and back down into the pool to heat the pool.

John Perlin (17:55):

Yes. That was something that I discovered because I thought that the biggest market would've been the solar water heater panels, but it turned out in the '70s, the only really profitable application were the pool heaters.

Dave Anderson (18:13):

Yeah, it's tough when you're heating water for your house because the sun is incredibly efficient at heating water up. But people want hot water, when they want hot water, and it doesn't store particularly efficiently either. So you take the water, you heat it up, and then you put it down into some sort of a reservoir, and you would lose temperature pretty quickly at nighttime. And people would have to supplement with gas or with electric. So when you're talking about the home application of heating water, it just wasn't as successful for the most part.

John Perlin (18:49):

Well, actually... And that's an interesting part of the history, was originally the first commercial solar water heaters in the 1890s were just tanks under glass in a container on the roof, and they would lose heat very quickly at night. But then you had the invention of what was called the day and night solar water heater, where you had what's called a thermal siphon, where you had the collector and the storage separate. And as the water warmed, it would naturally go into the storage tank and so, people could have hot water day and night. And this was a huge selling point. And there were hundreds of thousands of day and night solar water heaters put up between 1909 and 1930 in California and Florida. But this metamorphs into a huge application in the Mediterranean to the state.

And so, here we see a very excellent example of why history is valuable because it's sort of like building with Legos. We put Lego onto Lego and we see an application that was developed in 1909 that is still used by, for example, 90% of the people in Israel, and a good portion of people, almost a 100% in Cyprus. And I think it's about 50 or 60% in Turkey. In China, actually the equivalent of all the solar water heaters installed is about approximately 500 gigawatts of power. It's a very large scale, it's just that we don't see it here in the United States.

Dave Anderson (20:53):

Yeah, I think people are sometimes surprised to find out exactly how inefficient the home hot water heaters are. In fact, they're the least efficient, generally speaking, appliance and energy hogs that exist in many people's homes. So obviously, The Solar Podcast, we're huge proponents of solar generally. We certainly have an emphasis on the photovoltaic side of it. But one of the things that oftentimes gets asked is, "Hey, once I go solar, can I switch all my appliances out to electricity?" And of course, we're very big proponents of that, but if you were to take a natural hot water heater that had storage and swap it out from a gas or liquid propane and move it to an electricity based hot water heater, it's an incredible amount of electricity that those require to be able to keep water warm or hot inside those storages. So that the instant hot water heaters that are electric do much better. But anytime you're heating or cooling anything, it's just a real energy hog. It just takes a lot of electricity to do it.

John Perlin (21:55):

Another two uses that's happening right now in the solar business is a combination of solar thermal with photovoltaics, and the value to that is the water carries away the heat, and it makes the photovoltaics much more efficient because probably you know that solar cells work best cooler the ambient temperature is. And that's because people mistake... And that's another value of the book, the difference between the heat of the sun and the energy of the sun as shown by Einstein's light particle theory. And so, although a light particle idea of Einstein was more than a 100 years ago, it's still the most valuable, you might say, design tool for building a proper photovoltaic cell. Because we learned that the particles of the photons, the most powerful photons are on the shorter wavelengths, and that's why we design the active part of the solar cell as close as possible to the surface. In fact, if we didn't have Einstein's ideas, we could have never built the first solar cells because this was really the major force of doing things properly.

Dave Anderson (23:41):

Yeah, I think that's a surprise for people to find out sometimes that Einstein is really one of the fathers of photovoltaics, but he's really known for E = mc2. But perhaps his biggest contribution is actually going to be in this photovoltaic side as we're trying to do things like address climate change with the technology that he was very influential in.

John Perlin (24:01):

Well, actually, E = mc2 explains how the sun produces the energy that we're going to use.

Dave Anderson (24:11):

Yeah. Well, I don't have a PhD in physics, so I'm going to have to lean on you to explain how that works, but-

John Perlin (24:16):

Well, I'll explain very simply. What it shows is how it led to the discovery of the sun as a fusion reactor. Because in the past until about 1925, people believed that the sun was a heat source rather than an energy source. And so, people thought that the sun would lose its power to produce energy in a very geologically short time. But when it was proven by Einstein and Hans Bethe that the sun was a fusion reactor, we knew that we had about 6 billion years left of solar energy for the planet.

Dave Anderson (25:07):

That's a pretty good horizon. Not indefinite, but pretty good horizon nonetheless. So going back a little bit to talking about those combined concentrators and collectors, so you take the PV side with the thermal side and combine those. I think a lot of people don't fully appreciate that solar panels love the light of the sun, but don't love the heat of the sun. And a really important part of understanding how much energy or the efficiency of a cell is what they call the heat coefficient. And when you have something like water or when you're pumping water up on the roof and you can use that water to take some of the heat away or to cool the panel, that you do get the benefit of an increased efficiency to the cell.

Now, I would love to see some of that coming to fruition more, but there hasn't been a great practical implementation or a panel that has any sort of success. There's been a few companies that have talked about rumors of these things for years, but it hasn't really come to fruition yet. Why do you think that that might be the case?

John Perlin (26:07):

Well, first of all, now that it struck my mind, one big use of past knowledge, you might say in 1699 was the development of tracking, following the sun throughout the day. And that is a very large use of photovoltaics today, is you have several very large companies that are very successful in moving the photovoltaic panels with the arc of the sun throughout the day. And another part that's I think really coming on is using solar panels as part of a building. We call it building integrated photovoltaics, where instead of buying concrete or window materials, you buy photovoltaic materials for a double use. One is the windows to provide the infrastructure of the building, but also to collect electricity.

Dave Anderson (27:16):

Yeah, there's different substrates or different... Typically, when we think of a photovoltaic cell, we're thinking about the silicon cell that has come largely out of the semiconductor world, but there are different technologies. Thin film, first Solar is a very large multi-billion dollar company here in the United States that uses a thin film technology. There's been lots of other things that have been theorized in terms of great substrates that could be used for photovoltaics and things like the paint on roads or a film that you could put on windows, different places that you could use to collect the energy that comes from the sun. The truth is, it doesn't actually take a lot of surface area to completely reduce or to replace all of the energy that we're using, that's cars, that's lights, that's everything. It wouldn't take a significant amount of square footage to be able to do that. But one of the nice parts about using things like the BIPV, the built in PV is you want to generate the energy is close to where you're going to consume it, preferably as possible to eliminate the transmission of energy across the globe.

John Perlin (28:22):

Well, one of the beautiful things about photovoltaics is that you can fit modules for whatever power need you require. So if you need one watt, you can just build a one watt cell, or if you need a gigawatt, you can do the same. In fact, I was just reading this morning, and it's really pertinent to our talk, is that by 2027, total photovoltaics will be the main source of electricity throughout the world.

Dave Anderson (28:57):

Yeah. Well, did you say 2027?

John Perlin (29:01):


Dave Anderson (29:02):

Yeah. That's a little bit faster than a lot of the things that I've been reading, but that I obviously excites me because it's such a plentiful power source.

John Perlin (29:12):

Well, what also is, I think for me, very fascinating about doing history is you can see A, first of all, with and taking photovoltaics as an example, how we started off from such a tiny base. At first, photovoltaics were only used for satellites. But then by 2000, you started seeing this incremental growth for general homes. And today, 2022, we're at a terawatt level. And so, not only to watch the evolution, but also to watch the different people who would argue against using solar, it'll never happen. The sun's only up during the daytime, all these arguments. And so, that you see both how a new technology goes from niche to niche, like a step ladder towards the top to provide electricity for everyone.

Dave Anderson (30:26):

We've talked a lot about the history of the sun, and with some of the remaining time we have, I do think it's really important to get your perspective as a scientist. Why is the topic of photovoltaics and why is the topic of being able to capture the sun and use it for energy, why is this important, particularly for us right now, for our civilization?

John Perlin (30:47):

Well, because photovoltaics is actually the only producer of non-carbon fuel that can be applicable to almost any place in the world. Because everywhere we have the sun, and also because it's modular, it's very easy to, like I said before, to evolve. You can build it almost like Legos. If you have one megawatt, you can do say 500 on your first try. And if you like the technology, then you go in another 500. And I found this in a very practical way because I was the director at the University of California Santa Barbara of designing solar applications for the buildings on the campus. And the biggest challenge was to break through people's blinders on the value of photovoltaics. One of the most interesting comments I got, I took someone to see our first large installation, and we were right under the rooftop. And this person complaint, "I can't hear them." And that's really the beauty of photovoltaics, is there are no moving parts.

Dave Anderson (32:19):

That's right. It's about moving electrons. Yeah, and the reason that the solar panels are as big as they are frankly, is to protect the electrical components, the busbars that connect the cells. But in any given panel that typically the cells themselves are about a 100 microns. I mean, very thin, it doesn't take much to create that, what they call the p-n junction, to create what's essentially an unlimited opportunity to capture energy with obviously in tandem with the sun. Without the sun energizing the cells, you don't create a current. But with the sun, essentially, cells will never sort of stop working. Overtime, they do degrade, but it usually has to do with the glass getting cloudy or the busbar slowly breaking down. But the actual silicon cell itself, there's no reason that the useful life of those couldn't be a 100 years. It's really a fantastic technology.

John Perlin (33:18):

Well, also, what I think is fascinating to see from a historical point of view is the inertia keeping us from using a new form of energy. For example, in the beginning when the first solar cells were discovered in 1875, that a light source rather than a heat source could produce the same electricity, really boggled the minds of a thermodynamically inclined science community. They thought it was some kind of perpetual motion machine because until Einstein, they didn't realize that light carries energy as particles. And this was the real value of Einstein's work. And that's why I think it's very important to understand a little bit about the science, is that we understand that it's not magic, but it's scientifically based, and it's the only quantum power source that we have in the world. And that's this whole value, is that because there are no moving parts, there's less of a possibility of having any breakdown?

Dave Anderson (34:35):

Yeah. Well, I would say, and I think you'd probably agree that in the science world, a little bit of skepticism is a great thing because it forces us to really prove our theories out. Unfortunately, however, this has become a really politicized topic, and the topic of energy is one where wars are fought over, countries certainly argue over. And then even here in the United States, there's somewhat of a civil war going on in the sense of how are we going to power our homes and lives into the future? You have everything from electric vehicles to combustion engines. You have coal-fired power plants versus solar panels. Most cooler mines agree that there's some sort of a transition that's needed at a minimum. But let me ask, I mean, you're a scientist, you tend to prove everything out. Why has this become such a politicized arena, and why do you think that people that aren't scientists at times have such strong opinions about these things and tend to be so vocal?

John Perlin (35:35):

Well, I think it's mainly because in the United States, almost all the major energy industries are headquartered. And so, companies like Exxon, companies like Chevron, they tend to lose if cars are running on solar-powered electricity rather than fossil fuels. In fact, if you recall, Exxon scientists over 40 years ago knew exactly the dangers of burning of fossil fuels. But suppressed that information in order to continue to sell their product. I mean, what psychiatrist would want a medicine or a food that would totally end depression, for example, they wouldn't have any business, right? So it all comes down to, I think, the power of, and especially in the United States, of the energy companies in Houston, even though ironically, they were the first users of photovoltaics in the world on their rigs, for example, throughout the world in the 1970s, which I cover in the book.

Dave Anderson (36:59):

Well, as a scientist and a seeker of objective truth, I would think that you'd find those things particularly enraging.

John Perlin (37:05):

Well, and also the neocons were extremely anti-solar because totally, I think it irritated them that something so simple could do so much and also eliminated the former infrastructure that we have built in this country to produce energy. So I think it's A, mindset. I think it's B, influenced by a lot of interest groups, like that guy, for example, Manchin from West Virginia, because if you can produce electricity cheaper and cleaner than coal, there goes his coffers. His coffers are empty.

Dave Anderson (38:00):

Yeah. I will say though, however, he was the one that did... It was partly through a bipartisan effort, but championed this Inflation Reduction Act, which is going to be perhaps the biggest piece of legislation ever in terms of pushing forward renewable energy.

John Perlin (38:18):

Well, in today's news, he's actually entered a food fight with Biden, who wants to go extreme. Biden wants to really apply the act you talk about, while a Manchin wants to slow it down because it threatens the way he makes money. I mean, if you had a supermarket and suddenly you were told that you could buy a seed that you could plant in your house or something that could provide you with all the food you needed, of course, you would oppose that, right?

Dave Anderson (39:05):

Well, we've ventured pretty deep into about as political as this podcast tends to get, which is great. But I do want to ask you one other thing on this because-

John Perlin (39:05):

Oh, sure.

Dave Anderson (39:15):

... one of the other buzzwords that gets floated around a lot, you hear it a lot from the Fortune 500 companies, actually previous guests have come on and talked about that as many as 96% of the S&P 500 have some sort of sustainability goal. So this term ESG, environmental, social and corporate governance rules has become a real buzzword, and it's also become a fairly polarizing word. There are those that say that it's part of this and borrowing from things that I've read, not necessarily my own thinking, but it's part of this woke leftist movement, and then there are others that say, "No, this is just the right thing to do. It's environmental, it's social, it's corporate governance." These are the things that we've always been talking about, and it's always been important. And companies are now actually coming to the forefront and saying, "Look, we agree that these social issues, these environmental issues, the way that we govern ourselves as a corporate entity, these are important issues and important topics.

So I think on the solar side, it has typically always been thought of in the environmental, so the E part of that ESG, but I think it's really understated how important the social part of this is. When you realize that as many as 800 million people in the world today still do not have access to energy, do not have access to electricity. And the things that we're doing now to develop solar in the first world have trickled down, have huge benefits to what was previously thought of as the Third World, these societies that don't have access to electricity. I would imagine that your book talks a lot about how important access to energy is as it relates to civilization and civilization development.

John Perlin (40:59):

Oh, yeah. Well, actually, I cover a whole chapter called, it's on this whole question because what I try to show is how best to apply electricity for the unelectrified, that's the only way, because what happens is the other ways are so expensive that few people can afford it. And also the fact that so many people in, say you take Africa live beyond the grid, that the grid only serves the urban areas. And for example, Kenya, a real moneymaker for say an impoverished household is to have a solar panel where you can power a TV and then sell tickets to your neighbors to watch the television at night. And I found this very amusing, but also very important is the number one way of birth control is a solar panel. And the reason for that is because it keeps the man in the house away from the woman for three or four hours a night.

And it also empowers women because women now with electric lighting can actually earn money by doing various sellable tasks. And so, she can say, "You've got to put a contraceptive on guy because I earn the family's income." So it's been a very empowering application too. It's born for it, that's the beauty of solar. It can do both urban power and it can do, you might say rural electricity, and it can provide so many different services. It can provide a light in an operating room. I don't know if in the book I have like a camel with a solar collector on its hump. And what that is, is keeping the cold chain going. So medicines that are brought in, say from the ocean can be brought and not like adulterated in the trip to say some isolated outpost because the panel can keep the cold chain functioning.

Dave Anderson (43:51):


John Perlin (43:52):

Well, the reason I really love photovoltaics, I actually wrote a whole book on photovoltaics called, From Space to Earth: The Story of Solar Electricity, and that became a part actually of Let It Shine. I cover the entire story of PV from the first solar cell that was built in 1875 to the current.

Dave Anderson (44:18):

Well, John, I got to tell you, we appreciate you so much for coming on the show and being able to share your wealth of knowledge. Obviously, the research that you've put in as an author and your ongoing research as a professor is so important that each of us have the opportunity to hear and learn from people that are really dedicating, I would say, the large parts of their life towards the betterment of humanity. And I think that that's what you're doing when you're working on understanding photovoltaics, more importantly, energy that's derived from the sun. Really, I think for this podcast, one of the things that we certainly emphasize is that, again, I think that our society here in the United States and the world are well served through a transition to renewable and sustainable energy powered by the sun. And obviously in the short run, it's going to be a piece or a part of what we're doing. There's natural evolution in transition. But we genuinely appreciate the work that you've done on trying to illuminate or elucidate to the public the benefits, the value, and the importance of it.

John Perlin (45:21):

Well, I appreciate the time you've provided me with.

Dave Anderson (45:25):

Thank you so much for coming on the show. Genuinely appreciate you sharing the wisdom with us and look forward potentially to another opportunity to sit down and visit with you.

John Perlin (45:33):

I'd love to. Also, it was a joy to speak with you today.

Speaker 1 (45:39):

Thanks for listening to The Solar Podcast. Please don't forget to rate, review and share us with your colleagues and friends who are passionate about solar, renewable energy, and the future of the environment. We'll talk to you soon.

62 views0 comments


bottom of page