Of late, I have observed a curious phenomenon. The exact same social-media denizens who seek to raise doubts about whether climate change is really happening have become equally engaged in seeking to heap scorn on the utility of solar power as an energy option. But though the issues are politically aligned, there is not actually a great scientific commonality between them. One is a matter of meteorology, while the other falls largely within the field of materials science and engineering (and a bit of economics). And so, somebody with technical expertise sufficient to comment expertly on one would generally not be within the field of being able to comment on the other. And yet, that they do.

One of the arguments most consistently raised against solar power in these discussions is that solar panels simply can't handle environmental strains, and so will fall apart at some unspecified future point, far enough ahead for the claim to be presently untestable, but soon enough for them to assert that those who do invest in them will be sorry to have done so.

This immediately brings to my mind the fact that for over a decade-and-a-half, a robotic vehicle roamed the distant plains of Planet Mars -- a far harsher environment than any on Earth, being a hundred million miles further from the Sun, with sandstorms known to engulf half the planet -- powered only by a pair of solar panels feeding a lithium-ion battery. And those solar panels are even older tech, as the design specifications and panel fabrications had to be laid out several years before the 2003 launch date. In just the past few years, there have been advances of orders of magnitude in the efficiency, durability, and flexibility of solar technology, such that the panels made today would dwarf Opportunity's energy generation and already startling capacity to perform in so hostile an environment.


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