Musings on the remains of daylight


Where I walk, almost daily, to feed my illusion of youthful vigour, the mall at the corner of Champlain and Paul Streets in Dieppe posts signs that cheerfully remind patrons about its program of “daylight harvesting”.

One finds a fuller explanation on its website, which boasts “Champlain Place is leading the way in energy efficiency. 2008 renovations. . .included skylights with photo sensors able to ‘read’ sunlight entering . . .and adjust the interior lighting system, shutting lights off when sunlight reaches the pre-determined level. It’s lights out for the environment!”

That last phrase may be understood in one of two utterly different ways, but as the summer begins to recede and the sun seems ever lazier, I prefer the more optimistic interpretation. After all, every last morsel of daylight is, as Martha Stewart might agree, a good thing.

Unless you happen to live or work near Tower Bridge in a certain European capital of ancient repute.

“Developers have promised urgent action to cover up the Walkie Talkie skyscraper being built in the City of London after an ultra-bright light reflected from the building melted a Jaguar car on a street below,” reports a joint piece from the Independent and Associated Press.

“The 160m tall, £200 million ($397 million) building has been renamed the Walkie Scorchie after its distinctive concave surfaces reflected a dazzling beam of light which blinded passersby and extensively damaged vehicles below. . .Company director Martin Lindsay left his Jaguar XJ for an hour opposite the building, and returned to find warped side panels and the smell of burning plastic. ‘They’re going to have to think of something. I’m gutted,’ he said.”

In fact, “they’re” working on it. In a statement, the developers – Canary Wharf and Land Securities – explained that “the phenomenon is caused by the current elevation of the sun in the sky. It currently lasts for approximately two hours per day, with initial modeling suggesting that it will be present for approximately two to three weeks. . .We are consulting with local businesses and the City to address the issue in the short-term, while also evaluating longer-term solutions.”

One of these might be to stop building skyscrapers with so much glass. England’s weather service reports that London – traditionally, a dark and dank metropolis – has experience a record number of glitteringly sunny days this summer. The cause, it says, is most likely climate change, which suggests that residents can, in the future, expect regular occurrences of charred cafe awnings, melted dashboards and burnt doormats up and down Fenchurch Street.

But London is not the only place where Earth’s G-class, yellow dwarf star is causing headaches.

“Alarmed by what they say has become an existential threat to their business, utility companies are moving to roll back government incentives aimed at promoting solar energy and other renewable sources of power,” The New York Times reported last month. “At stake, the companies say, is nothing less than the future of the American electricity industry. ‘We did not get in front of this disruption,’ Clark Gellings, a fellow at the Electric Power Research Institute, a nonprofit arm of the industry, said during a panel discussion at the annual utility convention last month. ‘It may be too late.’”

The worry is that if roof-top solar panels continue to drop in price and rise in popularity – as they have in California and Arizona – the cost of regulated, distributed energy from more traditional, less environmentally friendly sources will shoot up, perhaps to unmarketable, unsustainable levels, forcing everyone back into the stone  age. As the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported in July, the solar segment of the electric power sector in that country is expected to grow by 79 per cent in  2013, and 49 per cent next year.

Should I worry? Does Cadillac Fairview, which manages Champlain Mall, realize that its daylight harvests are contributing to the decline and fall of western civilization? Or am I simply suffering from a mild dose of sun silliness?

It seems to be going around.

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