Years ago, when I was doing construction work and learning much about rehabbing old houses, we installed some enormous Photo Voltaic (PV) panels atop one Victorian-era manse that, if I’m not mistaken, were able to power a refrigerator of sufficient dimension for, I think, one frozen pizza. No lie. We all stood back and were like, man this is crazy. Talk about giving enlightenment a bad name – it was the hat trick – expensive, giant and ineffective.

Yesterday, an Israeli start-up unveiled PV technology at a kibbutz in Ashdod capable of harnessing 75 per cent of incoming sunlight. It looks like a modified parabolic trough but is actually a PV arrangement that uses mirrors to reduce the number of PV cells needed and has a water cooling system that increases efficiency and produces thermal energy.

The Monitor story also has a link to a video of a student project at MIT that concentrated the sun’s rays so intensely it was able to light a wooden 2 x 4 on fire.

The prospect of free energy in a region, or planet, dominated by the despotism of fossil fuel interests is quite a hopeful scenario – though it’s important to point out that we can become captives of hope just like anything else. Developing devices that track the sun, that work in shade, the abide by absolute requirements (clean, low cost, durable) we should demand of our energy technology at this point has nothing to do with hope. These are mere capabilities we should surround, master and set aside, and leave the old PV technology for museums that document the era of swell intentions and token investments in energy innovation and imagination.

An era already in the rear-view.