Top 5 Reasons Solar Energy will Save the World

(By Juan Cole)

1. The research and development monies now going into solar energy are great enough to fuel innovation and bring down prices rapidly. First Solar expects solar generation manufacturing costs to fall from 63 cents a watt to 35 cents a watt from now through 2017!

2. Honda is experimenting with a zero-carbon home. It includes a direct DC recharger for an electric car so as to cut down on energy lost to heat during the DC to AC conversion. Charging would take only 2 hours, direct from sunlight.

3. Thin-skin solar panels will be installed directly on the cars, and a canopy recharger will fill them back up.

4. Even poor countries of the global South like Pakistan are finding it affordable now to create enormous solar parks. Bahawalpur faces blackouts and a deficit of 4 gigawatts of electricity. It will soon get 1 gigawatt of electricity from solar and other renewables.

5. After seeing the way Russia is bullying Western Europe over opposition in Brussels to Russia grabbing Ukrainian territory, with Russia threatening to cut off natural gas, many countries will be encouraged to invest in renewable energy sources that cannot be cut off. Thailand is investing in 3 gigawatts of solar energy, not only because its government wants more electricity but because it wants more energy independence! The falling price of solar panels will give a further economic motive for going green, but tensions in the ASEAN countries over the possibility of gradually being reduced to Chinese puppets are real– something Obama is trying to address on his current trip to Japan and other countries of the far east. The alternative to solar, hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to produce natural gas, is not affordable in many countries; it uses enormous amounts of precious water, damages the environment, and produces huge methane emissions that threaten deadly climate disruption. Solar gives both cost savings and security, as well as a brighter climate future.

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NB: My 16 solar panels generated 150 kilowatt hours of electricity in the past 7 days, *all* of my home’s electricity needs, including charging my Chevy Volt, saving gasoline costs. And this is in cloudy April in the upper Midwest! In April so far I have offset several hundred pounds of dirty carbon dioxide that is causing climate disruption, plus I am objectively saving a lot of money. True, I had start-up costs, but those will likely be paid off within 6 years and after that everything is gravy. And the carbon costs of the panels and the car will be paid off in only 3 years, after which they are completely green. In some states, such as California and Colorado, you can rent the solar panels and pay only $1000 to get into the game. If you can afford a car in the $32,000 range and are planning to buy a new one, it is crazy not to get a Volt, which is the best deal in cars currently in the world. It is a luxury car and has a wonderful 40 mile battery (a form of storage for your panels), but is being sold a firesale prices as a loss leader.

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related video:


Clinton Global Initiative: Restoration of Solar Home Systems in Rural Thailand – Border Green Energy Team

18 Responses

  1. I am in solar heaven here in Germany. Solar is bound to take over given the fact that the efficiencies are now so high. I had to wait most of my life to see this happen (I’m 56) but it finally arrived. If Germany can do solar in the dark, I have no doubts that sunny places who neglect the solar option are doing so out of foolishness, ignorance or political machination. Enjoy.

  2. Thank you for the post and the impassioned enthusiasm.

    RE your comments / list:

    1. The estimate is that the solar modules, not “solar electricity generation costs, that is expected to continue to fall through the roof. The panels, not many years ago, was the dominant cost element for solar installations. Now, it is becoming rather miniscule next to the other hardware (inverter(s), framing, wiring), labor, and soft (business development/sales, permitting, insurance, etc) costs. Lots of people are looking to cut these and overall solar prices are plunging, just not as fast as the module hardware costs have fallen/are falling. Here, for example, is a discussion from last August with a nice graphic as to the overall: link to thinkprogress.org

    2. Interesting news re Honda and path to reduce / eliminate inverter losses in getting electricity into car batteries. There are efforts underway to improve the cost effectiveness of making new homes DC dominant — with either minimal separate wiring for the lower AC requirements.

    3. I think that we are a long way from solar on vehicle roof tops being a significant player in the transportation/energy system … even though there are very interesting value streams such as being able to keep vehicles cooler when parked in the sun (Prius solar on the roof) so that the air conditioning load is much lower on the moving vehicle/gas system.

    4. In the developing world, solar parks are not where we should look for the greatest enthusiasm since they rely on/foster reliance on ‘big grid’. The ability of solar to rapidly address the electricity gap, bringing light/other electricity use to people without electricity, and to replace diesel fuel burning generators in areas off grid are far more interesting and exciting.

    5. Not sure about the leap from Ukraine/Russia to Thailand’s decision to deploy 3 gigawatts of solar. Is there material backing that linkage? Perhaps valuable to show some European discussion emphasizing the need for renewables, to reduce reliance on Russian natural gas, as transition to a discussion of the global.

  3. I remember reading here on IC several months ago a comment written by someone that said that there couldf not be a “burb” of methane from the Artic Ocean for a long time because the Methane is found hundreds of feet under ground.
    Yet yesterday Robert Hunzicker reported on Counterpunch.org in an article titled Ripley’s Believe it or Not, climate Change Version, that in December of 2013 ice could not form over part of the Artic Sea because the methane gas bubling up prevent the ice from forming.
    Furthermore it was reported that there were two huge ocean to atmosphere methane “burbs” on Febuary 24th 2014. Most scientist say that there is a better chance of an aquatic dinasour sinking a 100 foot long South African fishing vessel (as reported on the Discovery Channel) than there is of a methane burb of the type reported. Is Robert Hunzicker trying to mislead us or are others trying to mislead us? i have to recuse myself from sitting on this jury.

  4. If enough people had Juan’s enthusiasm solar would indeed save the planet. However its not so easy to generate enough of it, especially when it often isn’t the cheapest option, or when the desire to use as much juice as we want whenever we want intrudes.

    Its not going to be easy to parlay advances in solar and wind, into saving the planet. We will have to tackle storing significant amounts of power, and maybe change expectations so that people can accept some curtailment when the weather doesn’t cooperate.

    Spring is the best time for rolling back electric meters with solar. Almost as much sun as summer, without the airconditioning demand.

      • I’m not doubting that. What I’m saying is that that is a far cry from saving the planet. For that we need to get worldwide consumption of fossil fuels down to almost nothing. That requires almost all of our energy to be changed. So if in only a few places solar (or wind) is not economic, the ruination of the climate will continue. I sure hope for enthusiasm is infectious, because thats what it will get to get the necessary changes accomplished.

      • You get all the FUD hounds when you post pro solar or pro wind articles. I’m in a quandary over a comment in moderation on a solar story I did earlier. It’s an obvious industry sponsored reach-around and I don’t know if I even want to let it pass. No swearing, threats or anything like that mind you. I’ve never blocked a negative comment in the past, even those that were ad hominem attacks on me, but I am really struggling with allowing industry wanks to pollute my comment thread. Enjoy.

  5. N.B., you should mention, when you have a chance, that used hybrids are now quite affordable and used plug-ins are now appearing on the market at a good price for those on a tighter budget. A friend of mine just bought a used Prius and he’s loving getting 50 mpg while crossing over the Sierras.

    The big story is that options for consumers wanting to cut down on carbon are rapidly expanding.

  6. Curt, just use regular Google and the phrase “arctic methane global warming.” You’ll see many articles on the issue of methane emissions.

    You can do the same with Google Scholar. As I understand it, frozen methane clathrate in the shallow waters of the Arctic is vulnerable to warming conditions. But methane clathrate at deep ocean depth is largely locked in by the enormous water pressure.

    I sense the facts are not all in yet and no one knows precisely how to talk about all this. A lot more research is needed. But I also sense urgency. This is what James Hansen has been concerned about (in addition to methane from biological processes when the tundra melts).

  7. Grameen Shakti (Village Energy) of Bangladesh is on track to provide solar energy, biogas, and cleaner cookstoves to over 5 million households in Bangladesh by 2015. My notes on a book about their history and process are at link to hubeventsnotes.blogspot.com

    Architecture 2030 is working to make all new buildings carbon zero by that year, and the progress is encouraging. There are a number of net zero energy and even net positive energy buildings all around the world, some of them skyscrapers. Cambridge, MA is debating a net zero energy zoning requirement for new, large buildings and CA is planning on a net zero code by 2020 for all new buildings.

    The future is going to be highly efficient and renewably powered. If all buildings approach net zero energy, we will eliminate about a third of our energy load. We know how to do it, safely. The question is do we have the will and the willingness to spend the money to do so.

  8. In point 1, you cite “solar electricity generation costs falling from 63 cents per watt to 35 cents per watt.” These are the manufacturing costs, not the generation costs.

    Big difference!

    • Worse, they are predicted future manufacturing cost for First Solar Cadmium Telluride, which is probably not scalable to the size needed to replace all the fossil fuels. We will have to rely on other types of panels to do the heavy lifting. Although future manufacturing cost predictions are only a tad higher than for CdTe.

  9. Paul, the following chart came out in 2012 and is already out of date:

    link to costofsolar.com

    In addition, the costs of installation are also dropping.

    If you read Science, you’ll find discussion of new solar innovations or related search about every two or three issues.

    Wind and energy storage are also experiencing many cost-effective innovations. For the Ph’Ds in these fields, it’s like the early days of automobiles and airplanes. The only problem these days is that the horse and buggy types have a lot of money and political clout.

    • We ordinary people can hope that some of the buggy riders are starting to put money into wagers on renewable technologies. Not, of course, that injecting vulture financialization and the other elements of business-as-usual into “greening” is guaranteed to produce a net better outcome. Some, of course, like the Kochs, are riding the horse they rode onto the scene, and are doubling down on desolating the planet via consumptive capitalism by betting on profit-making opportunities from the climate change they have induced, on their way to Elysium… link to huffingtonpost.com

  10. To power the city of Boston you would probably need to cover half the state with solar panels. As for powering Calcutta ……
    Solar cannot meet the needs of 7 billion earthlings.

    • Maybe you want to check your math and sources? link to energymatters.com.au

      One problem is that what tries to get fulfilled in a consumer-capitalist mess is not “needs,” it’s “wants:” a much more hugely elastic thing. And from what I read, you are simply wrong, even about “needs” of 7 billion of us. Got some authority?

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