Ecocentricity Blog: Solar Physics

Ecocentricity Blog: Solar Physics

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In a sense, the Sun is just being generous. It already has enough energy to fuse atoms together over and over and over again, which just creates more energy that it is willing to share with us. Thank you, Sun!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017 - 9:30am

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Do you know how the Sun works? Well buckle up my friend and strap on your nerd-helmet, cause I’m-a-gonna-tell-ya!

The Sun formed out of massive clouds of gas billions of years ago. As gravity tugged and pulled those gas molecules closer together, the density of the baby star got higher and higher. Pressure at the center built and temperatures rose accordingly (because science says that more pressure means higher temperature), and eventually the Sun became hot enough to create a sustained nuclear fusion reaction.

Here’s how that works. When you heat a gas, the atoms begin to move faster. If you have enough heat, the atoms will be moving so quickly that their nuclei will slam together and, rather than bounce off each other, they will fuse into a new atom. At the center of the Sun is a whole bunch of hydrogen (the first element on the periodic table), and when two hydrogen atoms fuse, they create helium (the second element on the periodic table).

In the process of getting stuck together, there is a change in the amount of binding energy needed to keep the nucleus stable. Mathematically, this manifests as a change in mass. And because Einstein figured out that energy equals mass times the speed of light squared (E=mc2), we know that a change in mass results in a release of lots of energy. Simply put, more energy is needed to keep two hydrogen atoms intact than is needed to keep one helium atom intact, so the extra energy needs to go somewhere.

That extra energy helps keep more fusion reactions happening, while having plenty left over to be the light that shines down on the Earth every day. In a sense, the Sun is just being generous. It already has enough energy to fuse atoms together over and over and over again, which just creates more energy that it is willing to share with us. Thank you, Sun!

Now that we’re all experts in nuclear fusion, I want to tell you about a nonprofit called RE-volv. I recently connected with these folks and came away impressed by their work. Basically, they are trying to help other nonprofits capture some of the Sun’s generosity.

RE-volv has created a revolving solar financing model for the nonprofit community with start-up capital coming from crowdsourcing. Let me unpack that a bit.

First, RE-volv partners with a community-serving nonprofit that, if it could afford to put solar on its building, might be able to save money and invest more in its mission.

Next, RE-volv attracts crowdfunded tax-deductible donations. Once enough money has been raised, RE-volv can install the solar system for the nonprofit and structure the financing as a 20-year solar lease. The nonprofit saves because the lease payments are lower than ordinary electric utilities payments. Meanwhile, RE-volv earns a small return on its investment.

The kicker is that, by earning a return on the solar systems, RE-volv is generating money that can be used to finance additional solar systems for other nonprofits. RE-volv’s projections suggest that once it finances 100 solar projects, the money raised on those leases will allow it to pay for a new solar installation every three weeks, without needing any additional donations! Those new installations will continue to add to the solar revolving fund, allowing more and more nonprofits to enjoy the benefits of this model.

If you think about it, RE-volv’s organizational model looks a lot like the physics of the Sun. It’s in the crowdfunding stage right now, which is like gravity pulling those hydrogen atoms together. Eventually it will have enough funding (i.e. heat) to be a full sustainable enterprise, building new solar installations with the financial gains from past solar installations (i.e. chain fusion reactions). From that point on, it’s solar generosity for everyone!


Valerie Bennett
+1 (770) 317-5858
Ray C. Anderson Foundation