The Sun supplies approximately 100,000 TeraWatts (TW) of energy to the Earth continuously. To put this into perspective the entire generating capacity of China is 1TW and the global population as a whole uses 15TW. Plants use about 100TW via photosynthesis. Most our energy consumption is derived from biomass created millions of years ago by photosynthesis and stored as coal, gas or oil when the plant died and was crushed by geological processes.
I am stealing and paraphrasing from Professor Neil Hunter’s presentation at the Royal Society’s Scientific Discussion Meeting on Bio-inspiration for New Technologies. Of course, as Neil pointed out, the energy from the Sun arrives across a range of wavelengths some of which are damaging to our health. So fortunately for us the Earth’s atmosphere filters out a number of wavelengths but nevertheless a broad band of wavelengths still arrives at the Earth’s surface. Photosynthesis only makes use of two relatively narrowbands of light….
Mankind’s efforts to use solar energy look pathetic alongside Nature’s performance and should be humbling to any engineer or scientist. But it is also an inspiration to do better. We need cheap clean energy for everyone. It is being delivered everyday but we don’t know how to use it.