5 Signs Solar Power is Taking over the World

(By Juan Cole)

Burning fossil fuels (coal, natural gas and oil) is putting 32 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide annually into the atmosphere. Since CO2 is a greenhouse gas that traps heat from the sun on earth and prevents it radiating back out to space, this unprecedented human output is causing climate disruption, a process that will accelerate over the next few decades and will prove extremely costly to human society (if the latter can even survive).

The only energy source that has a hope of fixing this problem and of resolving the coming energy crisis is solar. The cost of solar panels is falling rapidly, raising the hope that we can put in enough panels quickly enough to avoid the very worst scenario of carbon-induced climate disruption. (I put in 16 Enphase microinverter panels at my place this winter and they generated 120 kilowatt hours in the past week; my house and electric car averaged 150 kilowatt hours usage per week last month; and that is in Michigan at the tail end of winter).

Here are some promising signs with regard to solar power that have recently been in the news:

1. Cheaper solar panels and more efficient wind turbines now produce so much energy that they pay for themselves quickly even if you add the cost of storage into the mix, and they also pay for the cost of adding more wind and solar. The Scientific American writes that Charles Banhart, a post-doc at Stanford’s Global Clmate and Energy Project, told them: “What we’re saying is that theoretically, it is now theoretically possible to have this perfect world that’s just based on wind and solar.” It adds, “Rather than using existing “stock” fuels like fossil fuels, he said, renewables put out enough excess energy to fuel their own expansion.”

2. The price of electricity generated by solar panels in India has fallen so much that solar is now competitive with coal. India wants to add 22 gigawatts of solar by 2022, but is already looking like it will do at least 3 times that because of falling costs. In twenty years, India will be the country generating the most new demand for electricity in the world, surpassing China.

3. Ghana has started work on a $400 million, 155 megawatt solar utility plant, the largest so far in Africa and the 6th largest in the world. It will be completed in 2015.

4. Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe introduced a feed-in tariff 18 months ago, with dramatic results. Installed solar capacity in the past year and a half has gone from about 2 and a half gigawatts to a whopping 7.5 GW. In an encouraging sign for the Japanese economy, nearly half the photovoltaic panels shipped were manufactured in Japan. Since the tsunami disaster at the Daichi Fukushima nuclear complex, Japan has scrambled to replace the electricity generating capacity of its nuclear reactors. A majority of days in the year are sunny in Japan, but the solar panels generate at least some electricity even when it is overcast. The number of sunny days each year in Japan is comparable to that in Germany, where solar now accounts for 5% of German electricity production, a proportion expected to increase rapidly over the next decade.

5. American hip-hop artist Akon (who grew up in Senegal) is promoting affordable solar energy kits for African villagers that are cheaper than kerosene. He aims to bring power to a million Africans this year.

Akon Solar Energy Project in Kenya

6 Responses

  1. You forget #6 – constant calls from solar power telemarketers and even door-to-door salesmen selling “free” solar power panels for roofs in suburbia.

  2. NYT article indicates how intensively coal will stand its ground.
    link to nytimes.com . Not to mention that the wealthy and ferocious Republican party has coal’s back.

    Meanwhile the White House is quietly shifting to the “s__t happens” philosophy. This fact sheet link to whitehouse.gov has the purpose of alerting the public that the Federal Government has lots of data that could help the public and private sectors cope with climate change damage. Sort of makes coping a cottage industry aided by a Federal download site.

    If Right wing political power and intensity could be harnessed to advocate a rapid conversion to a solar/wind energy infrastructure, instead of opposing it, the USA could be the guiding light for the rest of the world. Maybe when we see that pig heading down the runway.

    • Solar panels are falling in price so fast that the market will kill coal, not to mention the EPA. Coal is over with. Sell your stock if you have any. By 2020 it will be largely defunct or illegal or both.

  3. I think you underestimate the power of big money and the venality of US politicians right up to the President , who are so easily bought.

  4. Hi Juan,
    Have you kept track of local installation costs and returns?
    I’m in A2 city limits, 500 ft2 south facing roof available (more if willing to cut a white pine), and a bank trying to shove money at me at 3%.

    • My advice, contact Sunventrix and they’ll tell you.

      The solar panels pay for themselves faster if coupled with an EV.

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