The Power of Solar Energy
According to the US Department of Energy, solar power is more affordable, accessible and prevalent in the US than ever before. Since 2008, U.S. installations have grown seventeen-fold from 1.2 gigawatts (GW) to an estimated 30 GW today, enough to power the equivalent of 5.7 million average American homes. Since 2010, the average cost of solar PV panels has dropped more than 60% and the cost of a solar electric system has dropped by about 50%. Solar electricity is now considered to be economically competitive with conventional energy sources in several states, including California, Hawaii, Texas, and Minnesota.
In addition to becoming an important player in today’s energy market, the solar industry is also helping to stimulate job growth in the US. Solar jobs have increased about 123% since November 2010, with nearly 209,000 solar workers in the United States alone. But there is another feature of solar energy that is even more important than its declining costs and increased jobs: its abundance.
The abundance of solar energy around the globe 24/7 year round ensures its future as a key resource. Rather than focusing on declining reserves of oil and natural gas, or having to deal with the fluctuations of the global marketplace, both industry and homeowners can rely on solar energy as a constant and readily available resource. Yes, there are still issues related to solar energy that require both technology and innovation to solve. Market barriers and grid integration challenges continue to hinder greater deployment and there are soft costs related to permitting and financing that must still be addressed. BUT consider the following:
The US Department of Energy maintains that the amount of sunlight that strikes the earth’s surface in an hour and a half is enough to handle the entire world’s energy consumption for a full year. PV panels on just 0.6% of the nation’s total land area could supply enough electricity to power the entire United States. That’s staggering to even think about!
As further technological advances and innovative solutions are developed and deployed to increase the efficiency and drive down the costs of solar energy, utilities and consumers will come to rely on solar for baseload power. There is no doubt that solar energy is the future. For now, the average energy consumer can find both state and federal resources to both explain and help finance a solar project. There is a range of incentives and policies regarding use of solar power that can lead today’s commercial and residential user to increased energy efficiency at reduced costs. A good place to start is to investigate the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency at www.dsireusa.org as well as online materials provided by SEIA, the Solar Energy Industries Association as www.seia.org