In the dry Nevada desert, just outside of the city of Sparks, the world's biggest building has begun pumping out lithium-ion batteries. This mammoth Tesla Gigafactory is the brainchild of a South African immigrant, Elon Musk, and named after a legendary inventor and immigrant from Serbia, Nikola Tesla. Its aim is to transform global green energy distribution.
Meanwhile, along New York's Niagara River, another Musk enterprise, known as SolarCity, will soon be pumping out 10,000 solar panels per day.
These behemoths are at the cutting edge of an epic technological revolution now driving energy production rapidly, cleanly, and decisively away from fossil and nuclear power.
Germany, which has the world's fourth-largest economy, is moving so rapidly into a post-fossil/nuclear reality that one of the country's key "problems" has been a wave of cheap, clean wind and solar-based power strong enough to occasionally overload the national grid. Smaller countries like Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, and Costa Rica are eagerly following suit.
In the midst of this astounding bounty, the fossil-fuel-and-nuke-bound America of Donald Trump and the Koch brothers seems hopelessly out of step. While green-energy production soars in efficiency and plummets in cost, a corporate-owned central grid is dragging the United States down, toward environmental disaster, technological obsolescence, and economic depression.
Sadly for us Americans, many of the new technologies remaking the green-powered world were pioneered here in the United States but are now being dominated by global competitors. These include:
Photovoltaic cells: This photo-chemical process by which light can bump electrons from various inert media and create electrical current has been known since the early 1800s. The prototype PV cell was produced for the space program at Bell Labs in 1954. It still generates juice. The next incarnation went up on the Voyager satellite.
Arco and other American companies pioneered PV research and development. But gradually the lead slipped away to Germany, Japan, Israel, and China. And after decades of being dismissed as too expensive to matter, photovoltaics experienced one of technological history's most astonishing price drops, falling by 80 percent in the last decade, with still more breakthroughs on the horizon.
Solar panels installed on rooftops can now produce electricity more cheaply than any other source, including fracked gas. With batteries from Tesla and other providers, solar panels will now be able to light, heat, and cool buildings 24/7 without interruption. Plus, they will be powering electric vehicles. Millions of free-standing structures can now become...