THE DEATH OF SIR ARTHURMarch 20, 2008
We are saddened by the death of Sir Arthur C. Clarke, 90, in Sri Lanka this week. He was a friend and big supporter of solar energy. I first met Arthur at his home in Colombo in 1992, having been introduced by Sri Lankan friends who knew him because of his work in photovoltaics – at the Arthur C. Clarke Institute near Colombo. Sir Arthur, as we called him after his knighthood, was credited with coming up with the idea of the orbiting geostationary communications satellite, which could be used to broadcast TV signals around the world. He promoted this idea, and neglected to patent it, at a time when few people knew what television was, let alone believed we could build rockets powerful enough to launch satellites into orbit. This great visionary believed in the impossible, and who is to say the ideas and concepts in his dozens of science fiction books won’t one day prove to be possible?
Space satellites require power, so Sir Arthur took a keen interest in solar power as it developed. He made a speech in Washington DC in the 1970s at the inauguration of Comsat stating that not only would solar powered satellites be able to broadcast TV around the world to the remotest regions, but that solar powered receivers and televisions in rural villages would be able to pick up the signals, helping to bring remote communities into the 20th Century. When my organization, the Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF), arrived in Sri Lanka to bring solar electricity to rural people, Sir Arthur was delighted, and became our biggest supporter. He appeared in our video about SELF’s work, speaking steadily into the camera: “For the last few centuries since the industrial revolution, we’ve been living on our capital, on the energy stored up in coal and oil from sunlight hundreds of millions of years ago. We’ve been eating up these reserves at a colossal rate. In the near future, maybe only a few decades, the oil and gas and coal will all be gone. That means we’ll have to go back to the original source, the sun.”
In 2005, Sir Arthur agreed to do a jacket blurb for my book, Chasing The Sun: Solar Adventures Around The World, and I was amazed he would so honor me. Anything for solar! When he learned about my new company, Standard Solar, he took great interest and wished us well.
I emailed Sir Arthur a birthday greeting for his 90th recently, and received back his three wishes for the future: That someone find evidence of extraterrestrial life; that the world adopt clean energy sources; and that an end be found to the long civil war in Sri Lanka, where he’d lived since 1956. We, the world’s carbon-based bi-peds, as he called the human race, have lost a great prophet, writer, and friend.
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