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Viva la Solar Revolution!

“When research began in 1977 on A Golden Thread: 2,500 Years of Solar Architecture and Technology, the sire of my new book Let It Shine, only 360 watts of photovoltaics operated in the world. At this writing, that installed number has increased by a factor of 250,000 to 100 billion watts, or 100 gigawatts.”
John Perlin, international expert on solar energy and forestry

America could power itself 100 times over with solar energy. That is a Nov. 20 Washington Post headline describing a report by Environment America Research and Policy Center, Star Power: The Growing Role of Solar Energy in America. Other report findings include:

  • The U.S. “has the potential to produce more than 100 times as much electricity from solar PV and concentrating solar power (CSP) installations as the nation consumes each year.”
  • Every single state could generate more solar electricity than its residents currently consume.
  • As shown in the image below, the vast majority of states can get 25 to 100 times as much energy as they’re using – or more!

Map outling the growing role of solar power generation in the United States.
Environment America, "Star Power: The Growing Role of Solar Energy in America," 2014. (Image Source: Washington Post)

Utilizing data from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the report also suggests that 35 million homes and businesses could potentially install solar on their roofs. You might think all this is new technology, but solar technology has a very long and colorful history – six millennia of history, in fact.

Advice for Energy Managers

Is it time for you to invest in solar? Energy Manager Today provides the following chart to help you calculate the cost of onsite energy generation and understand renewable energy cost parity:

Table outlining comparisons of electrical buyers, system planners, regulators and policymakers.

Energy Manager Today explains, “World Resources Institute says in order to make cost comparisons, the average cost of energy for a behind-the-meter project should be calculated using information from past projects or the levelized cost of energy (LCOE), that is, the projected total system and operating costs divided by total kWh produced over the lifetime of the project or contract.”

If all this is too complicated for you, don’t worry. The dramatic drop in solar power costs will soon mean that solar will make sense, economically, well, almost everywhere the sun shines. It will also mean that America will need a great many solar installers.

Watching the Future of Solar Energy As It Happens

At present, clean solar power provides a tiny fraction of the percentage of America’s rather dirty energy mix. That is about to change. Remember: not too long ago, computer-based word processors made up only a tiny percent of the traditional typewriter market. How quickly that situation reversed, due to economics (increasingly cheap technology) and practicality. Likewise, solar is increasingly cheap and practical. The living part of the Earth (biosphere) is solar-powered; why shouldn’t human civilization follow nature? Indeed, right now, our civilization does run on solar power; however, it runs mostly on very old, dirty solar power in the form of coal, oil, and natural gas.

“By next year, for the first time, solar will be providing more than one percent of America’s total electricity needs, and our growth trajectory looks very promising.”
Ken Johnson, vice president of communication, Solar Energy Industries Association
“I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait till oil and coal run out before we tackle that.”
Thomas Edison

Kyle G. Crider (MPA, LEED AP ND) is a professional science and sustainability “story teller.” In his spare time he is pursuing his Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary (Environmental Health) Engineering and traveling the highways and by-ways of home state with his wife Beverly in search of fact, fiction, and folklore for Strange Alabama.