I am not one to shy away from criticizing Nova when it deserves it. Whether they’re airing stories about humans regressing or searching for the first flower, if the program isn’t up to snuff I say as much. Let it not be said though that I do not praise Nova when they come out with a spectacular episode. Tomorrow night, Nova airs a spectacular episode entitled “Saved by the Sun.” I recommend, highly, sitting down and watching.

While clearly coming down on Al Gore’s side of the Global Warming debate, the show wisely does not spend much time on greenhouse gases, global warming, and the use of fossil fuels, choosing rather to discuss the potential benefits of solar power. Also, wisely, the show is incredibly clear pointing out that many of the benefits are, in fact, at this point only potential. Nova states time and again that solar power is not yet cheap enough, nor efficient enough to be a solution. Rather, solar power is a potential solution, and one that should unquestionably be considered as a replacement for fossil fuels.

By taking a close look at people that have installed solar panels, the results, and future improvements to the panels’ efficiency, Nova makes a good case for future solar panel use. Though at this moment the price of installation of solar panels may be prohibitive (one house in question cost $30,000), due to government subsidies, currently offered by 14 states, that cost can be substantially dropped and electric bills cut in half or better (depending on the quantity of solar panels one puts up). Even better, 41 states apparently provide credit for excess power that solar panels deliver back to the power grid.

The episode also discusses a huge solar array in the California desert, and another being built in Nevada. Importantly, the show works through the huge advantages of the California array – it provides a lot of power, even if it’s a small percentage of the total California needs, and the disadvantages – it takes up a vast amount of space but is far out in the desert and the quantity of power delivered to cities is diminished due to the long distance the current must travel.

Also fascinating in the episode is a close look at the German government which has made solar power an important part of its look towards the future. The government there offers massive amounts of money for people installing solar panels that connect to the power grid, amounts far in excess of what is charged to individuals for power. Consequently, though Germany had a stated goal of producing 20% of its electricity via solar power by the year 2020, they might be able to hit 30% by then (and, this is in a country that has less sun than anywhere in the US save Alaska).

The concepts behind solar panels, a possible solar paint, electricity in general, and power plants in particular are discussed in a way that neither dumbs down the material, nor talks above people’s heads. And, in something I have not seen before in many an environmental-based program, when scientists disagree on things the episode actually shows them disagreeing and makes it clear when something is still up in the air in the scientific community. Nova doesn’t take a stand on those issues, doesn’t diminish one of the scientists or elevate another, it simply puts forth both points of view. It’s hugely refreshing.

This episode of Nova is absolutely fascinating. Through its being very middle of the road, it made this non-believer believe that changing the world is possible. Or, at least, something to be considered. It definitely made me want to go out and get solar panels.

Maybe saving the Earth is possible…

Nova – “Saved by the Sun” airs Tuesday, April 24th, at 8PM ET/PT, but you should, of course, check your local listings anyway.