Power Up

Two university-based startups in Australia — Sunswift and EVX — are currently vying to produce the first road-legal, solar-powered car. With top-speeds at 90 mph, average speeds 50 mph, no need to constantly plug in, and a capacity to drive 340 miles before needing sunshine again, these vehicles may very well come to dominate the automobile market in the not-too-distant future. Costs of developing introductory models are high, so they’re aiming to first focus on a high-end target market. The initial line will likely be sold as a custom, limited-edition with a hefty price tag of around $250,000. But don’t roll your eyes in dismissiveness. There’s a precedent. Tesla — a company run by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk — currently sells electric cars starting at $101,500, but is projected to market vehicles in 2017 at a beginning price point of $35,000.

That’s as far as cars are concerned. But how about an airplane making its way through the skies on solar power? Can you imagine that? Well, Solar Impulse — a Swiss-based company — is currently in the midst of flying its Solar Impulse II around the world for the first time, without one bit of conventional fuel. The aircraft is powered completely by the sun, and on the night of this past May 21 it made a milestone stop along its route in Dayton, Ohio. Both the place and the date carry significance. Dayton was home to the Wright Brothers — first ever to complete a controlled, sustained flight of a powered aircraft. And 89 years ago, on May 21, 1927, Charles Lindbergh became the first person to fly alone across the Atlantic from New York to Paris.

Considering that the first photovoltaic cell was invented in 1954 (and had a conversion efficiency of only 4 percent), current realities of solar power just 62 years later are nothing short of incredible. And it’s more than just the gigantic leaps of technological advancement. It’s an absolute game changer. Mankind seems to be on the cusp of making a dramatic shift from the era of the phenomenally pollutant-producing and ecologically-damaging fossil fuels to an era of energy whose usage is practically as clean as its source.

I know, I know. You’re going to tell me that people have been saying this already for decades and that my head seems to be up in the clouds with the Solar Impulse II. Perhaps.

One thing is clear, though. Had you asked the average Joe 30 years ago if there is a real future for car and air travel powered by nothing but sunlight, Joe might have given you a look that suggests you belong in the funny farm. It would just sound too utopian. Too easy. You want to be able to move thousands upon thousands of pounds without any burn? How could it be?! But now that seemingly impossible proposition is unfolding into reality right before our eyes.

Now consider what Rebbetzin Chana Perel Kotler once wistfully remarked to Mr. Irving Bunim as she placed a wrapped-up piece of cake into the coat pocket of her husband, Harav Aharon Kotler, zt”l, right before he and Mr. Bunim set out on one of their innumerable klal missions: “Maybe he will feel his pocket at some point in the day and notice that there is something in it. Maybe he will actually remove it from his pocket to see what it is. And maybe, maybe he will even open it. And maybe he will even eat it!”

Rav Aharon was not alone in this regard. Many Gedolei Torah throughout the centuries were known to subsist on an incredibly small amount of material sustenance and on an absolutely bare minimum of sleep. So what did they live off of? Harav Aharon Lopiansky, shlita, explained that there exist two channels of chiyus. One is primarily physical, and the other is when the neshamah takes over the human system to the point that the person’s primary source of vitality is through the direct channels of ruchniyus.

Harav Moshe Twersky, Hy”d, once said that everything in Olam Hazeh is a mashal for avodas Hashem. The passuk tells us that a mitzvah is a candle and Torah is light itself. Pure light. Light that, with the right formula, can be transformed into energy. And Chazal tell us about the Torah: turn it over again and again, for everything is in it. A lot of times we have all sorts of issues and challenges, and we look for solutions. Lots of solutions can work, but they can also come with a price tag. Greenhouse emissions, if you will. Solar energy can empower us to think out of the box: perhaps there is a clean way of doing this. Without any burn. Perhaps I can tap into the light of Torah and turn it into a dynamic, problem-solving energy. n