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OU on the BBC: James May's Big Ideas - Power to the People

Updated Tuesday, 23rd September 2008

Goodbye to burning dead plants and animals, hello to forward-thinking sources of energy in Power to the People.

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James looking for energy of the future Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Production team

In the last of his Big Ideas journeys, James May sets off to find smarter, brighter and bolder ways of powering the planet for future generations.

James begins his journey by looking at the energy produced by the sun. In a unique experiment, he tries a solar-powered car. It might have raced thousands of miles across the Australian desert - but just how far will a solar car travel in Guildford at night?

In Seville, James visits the world’s first solar power station. This extraordinary cathedral of lights towers over the Spanish countryside, but for all its high tech glory, James discovers a curiously low tech Achilles’ heel.

Continuing his journey to the US, James encounters a group of dedicated aerospace engineers who are planning to make a lift that will reach 20,000 miles into the skies. Their idea is to build a power station in space. James watches enthralled as they take their first tentative steps towards their goal - and a crack at a $2million [£1million] prize.

While in Holland, James meets the first Dutchman who once travelled into space. This man has now put away his rockets and spacesuit, swapping them instead for kites in an attempt to harvest the powerful winds of a high-altitude jetstream.

And finally, James heads off into the deserts of New Mexico to seek out some modern-day alchemists. This group of scientists are hoping to conjure petrol out of thin air, with the help of only a few mirrors.

Take it futher

There's a lot to discover in the book Renewable Energy (Second edition 2004), edited by Godfrey Boyle; published by OUP.

Watch an animation of nuclear fusion and compare with an animation of nuclear fission.

Find out more about JET, the Joint European Torus, and explore their accessible guide to fusion.

Inspired? Why not consider studying science or engineering and technology with the Open University?

First broadcast: Sunday 5 Oct 2008 on BBC TWO





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