The Unstoppable Rise of Solar Power
The already-observable effects of climate change emphasize the urgency of both developing and scaling up clean energy solutions for future generations. If we hope to continue enjoying the Earth’s bountiful gifts and resources, we must do so in such a way that ensures their long-term sustainability. By looking to the sun’s rays – which provide a virtually unlimited supply of energy – we can preserve the planet’s health while assuring our own access to reliable, affordable electrical power.
As with many new technological products, the price of solar photovoltaic cells has come down as manufacturing techniques have improved. Increasing demand by large companies and private individuals alike has led to record-setting numbers for the solar industry. More than 7,000 megawatts of solar capacity was added in the United States in 2015. This is up from fewer than 1,000 megawatts installed just five years ago in 2010. According to Ohio Gas, 2015 was the first year in history that solar surpassed natural gas in terms of new generating capacity. The Solar Energy Industries Association expects new installations in the country to jump above 12,000 megawatts in 2016.
Residence Solar Accessibility
There are many competing third-party solar providers paving the way for families and individuals to get involved in the solar power boom. Many companies offer the same “zero-down” payment scheme first introduced by the Elon Musk-chaired SolarCity, allowing consumers to get started with no upfront costs. Instead, homeowners pay a low monthly fee for the solar power they use. In order to sort through the various solar options available and help consumers find the best one for their particular circumstances, Google has launched Project Sunroof, an informative online service that’s now available in more than a dozen cities around the United States.
Many states offer incentives for property owners who are considering the installation of solar panels, but there has also been some serious pushback from traditional power providers. Doing everything they can to block out the sun, utility monopolies and fossil fuel interest groups have begun lobbying regulators to raise rates for solar customers and prevent third-party providers from gaining traction. Nevada has moved to cut the payments given to residents who sell their solar-sourced excess electricity back to NV Energy. Florida, meanwhile, allows approved energy suppliers to generate electricity via solar means and then sell it to their customers, but installations to individual residential properties by corporations are disallowed. Solar energy represents a serious, growing threat to existing business models, so it’s no surprise that “Big Energy” wants to protect their absolute control over electricity sales.
Solar Energy and Corporations
While it may be possible for traditional electricity suppliers to stymie the wishes of scattered individuals, it’s a different story when big business is involved. Walmart, General Motors, Apple and Intel are just a few of the corporate behemoths that are in the process of weaning themselves away from polluting forms of energy production and towards cleaner alternatives. If staid and backward-looking electricity suppliers don’t want to play ball with them, they have the clout and financial resources to do an end-run around anything that’s blocking their path. Apple, in fact, manages its own solar array in North Carolina while Intel has installed solar cells atop a carport at its Folsom, Calif., location.
The Future of Solar
There’s now enough solar infrastructure in place to power 4.6 million American households, which sounds great until we consider that there are more than 120 million households across the nation. Solar power still has a ways to go before it can truly be said to be living up to its potential.
The rise of solar power in the United States has warmed the hearts of those who want to change our environment-destroying habits. Market pressures are already coming to bear on the fossil fuel industry, and we can look forward to a future in which humanity acts in a more ecologically sustainable way. Solar power is price-competitive with other types of electricity in many areas of the country, and it will become more so as technological improvements occur and as economies of scale come into play.
Beth Sarah is a blogger based in the cold and windy city of Chicago, IL. She graduated from DePaul University in 2011 and is a passionate advocate for the environment. She lives with her pet rabbit, Anthony Hopkins.