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Skip to 0 minutes and 4 seconds So over the last week, we have discussed how the world has thrived on cheap, non-renewable energy materials– coal, oil, and gas. We have also learned that while these cheap energy materials lie at the heart of modern life across the planet, they also represent the biggest future threat to the planet’s existence. And while we can dig energy materials out of the ground, we have largely ignored our biggest source of free energy, the sun. Well, that’s not strictly true because, of course, you are all familiar with solar cells, devices that turn sunlight into electricity. There are millions of solar cells on homes and buildings around the world, so why not just make millions more?

Skip to 0 minutes and 59 seconds The simplest answer to that question lies in answering another question that is at the heart of our discussion about new energy materials. Is it easier and cheaper just to dig up coal and oil, and burn them in large power stations to make electricity for thousands of people, or to turn sand into pure silicon and make millions of solar cells? Which of those processes will use more energy and create more pollution? Well, it turns out that, after almost 70 years of work and development of silicon solar cells, it’s now cheaper to produce electricity from solar cells than coal. But solar cell production is still an energy-intensive process, and takes a lot of time to set up.

Skip to 1 minute and 52 seconds Are there alternative and possibly better materials to use to capture that free energy from the sun?

Skip to 2 minutes and 0 seconds Join us again next week, and we’ll talk about how the same material that has changed our lives in so many other ways plastic, a material that may be the answer to a sustainable life on Earth. See you soon.

Week 1 summary

The world has thrived on cheap, non-renewable energy materials - coal, oil and gas - but at what cost?

Congratulations on completing this week, we have explored the current energy situation. We have considered where our energy comes from and how sustainable these sources are long term. We have also heard from leading experts in the field regarding how current energy processes affect us globally.

Conversation Starter

  • Have you heard about the Terrawatt challenge before?

  • What new information have you learned this week, that stood out for you?

The energy crisis we are in is very real. It is clear that non-renewable sources of energy are not the long-term answer, but what is?

Next Week

We look at how we generate electricity from the sun. Could plastic be the answer to producing all our energy needs for life on Earth? Join us next week as we investigate the part plastic may play in helping us find a renewable energy source to survive on Earth.

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This video is from the free online course:

How to Survive on Earth: Energy Materials for a Sustainable Future

University of Wollongong

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