Analyzing the impact of solar and wind energy in the U.S, the paper’s authors focused on how these renewables have saved both lives and money during a nine-year period (from 2007 to 2015). By reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increased dependence in solar and wind energy sources have improved air quality in the U.S., at a rate that varies between region to region.
“We find cumulative wind and solar air-quality benefits of … US$29.7–112.8 billion, mostly from 3,000 to 12,700 avoided premature mortalities,” the researchers, led by Dev Millstein from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, wrote in their report.
The premature deaths referred to here are from air pollution. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that air pollution causes around 3 million premature deaths worldwide per year, and that 92 percent of people live in places with air quality that does not meet WHO standards for health. Deaths from air pollution increased globally in 2015, a separate study showed.
That wasn’t the case in the U.S., however, where particulate pollution in 2015 was down by 27 percent from 1990 levels — which matches Millstein’s findings. Thanks to an increase in solar and wind energy generation, the U.S. saw a drop a 20 percent drop in carbon dioxide, while fine particulate pollutants were down by 46 percent, the study showed.
Clean Energy, Cheaper Energy
Interestingly, solar and wind generation also led to what the study calls “cumulative climate benefits,” which cover energy use, changes in agricultural productivity, losses from disasters (like flooding) that impact human health, and general ecosystem services. The total monetary benefit of lowered carbon CO2 emissions from 2007 to 2015 , the study said, is at $5.3 billion to $106.8 billion.
The authors also noted that their “analysis does not incorporate benefits outside of air quality and climate benefits such as energy, capacity or transmission impacts.” It’s worth pointing this out, as other reports do cover these impacts. Nations have better access to renewables now compared to 2015, thanks to cheaper costs. Solar energy has become increasingly affordable because of drops in the price of solar panels, while wind is now cheaper than fossil fuels.
The government of South Australia has announced plans to construct the world’s largest single-tower solar thermal power plant in Port Augusta. California-based solar tech company SolarReserve will be responsible for both the build and upkeep of the facility.
The Aurora Solar Energy Project is based on plans that were developed as part of the Rice Solar Energy Project in California, which stalled as a result of changes to tax credits related to renewable energy.
Once built, arrays of heliostats will focus solar energy onto a central tower, which uses molten salt technology to store that energy as heat. These molten salts will provide 1,100 megawatts of energy storage capacity, which equates to eight hours of full load storage. This will allow the facility to generate electricity during the night as well as during the day when sunlight is shining down.
Aurora is projected to have an output of 150 megawatts and an ability to generate 495 gigawatt hours of electricity each year. The station will be able to service 90,000 homes and is expected to be able to cater to around five percent of South Australia’s total energy needs. Construction on the $650 million plant will begin next year, with the expectation that Aurora will be producing electricity by 2020.
The Sun Sets on Coal
The Aurora Solar Energy Project won’t be the first major renewable energy project for South Australia. In July, the local government inked a deal with Tesla to install a Powerpack system that will work alongside the Hornsdale Wind Farm.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been very clear about the potential for solar to help the U.S. meet its own energy needs, asserting that the entire nation could be powered by an area measuring 25,600 square kilometers (10,000 square miles) filled with solar panels.
Despite these claims and the assertions of other experts, however, U.S. President Donald Trump appears determined to try to revive the coal industry.
Despite a lack of federal support, individual states and cities within the U.S. are committing to fossil fuel alternatives as well — just this month, Orlando, Florida, became the fortieth city in the country to make a commitment to completely transition to renewables within the next several decades.
A primary contributor to this increased adoption is cost. For a long time, a main argument against renewable energy sources has been their high cost when compared to fossil fuels.
Now, the solar panels that we’ve become accustomed to seeing atop residential homes have dropped in price significantly, and building a new commercial solar plant is also cheaper than building a plant that’s powered by fossil fuels. Experts are predicting that solar energy will actually be cheaper than coal within the next four years.
This increased affordability will no doubt lead to the creation of more projects like the one in Port Augusta, and that will go a long way toward helping the world meet the goals of the Paris Agreement and stem the damage we’ve done to the planet through the use of fossil fuels.
Ikea has launched a range of solar panels and home battery packs in the UK. Partnering up with Solarcentury, the country’s leading provider of solar technology, the company hopes to simplify customers’ efforts to make their homes more eco-friendly.
While the systems cost thousands of British pounds, Ikea claims that they could cut owners’ electricity bill by up to 50 percent. An online tool can estimate the savings based on geographic location (postal code), based on measurements of the roof taken from satellite imagery.
While Ikea’s furniture is generally self-assembly, solar panels will be installed by experts. Interested parties can get a free quote, which is verified by a home survey before engineers install the hardware.
Solar power is becoming more and more accessible. Many expect Tesla’s solar roof to further expand the reach of the technology because of its cheaper price tag than current implementations, and its completely noninvasive appearance.
The big difference with Ikea is that, unlike Tesla, Ikea is a tried-and-true brand, and the convenience of its installation process will appeal to a lot of consumers. If its solar range proves to be popular in the UK, we might even expect to see the company expand the program to other countries.
“If you wanted to power the entire U.S. with solar panels, it would take a fairly small corner of Nevada or Texas or Utah; you only need about 100 miles by 100 miles of solar panels to power the entire United States,” Musk said. “The batteries you need to store the energy, to make sure you have 24/7 power, is 1 mile by 1 mile. One square-mile. That’s it.”
Why solar? Well, as Musk explained, as far as energy sources go, we can count on solar to come through for us: “People talk about fusion and all that, but the sun is a giant fusion reactor in the sky. It’s really reliable. It comes up every day. If it doesn’t we’ve got bigger problems.”
At present, about 10 percent of the U.S. is powered by renewable energy sources. To achieve a complete renewable energy power, Musk thinks solar is the way to go.
To start, he suggested combining rooftop solar and utility-scale solar plants. The former would be on the rooftops of houses in the suburbs, while the latter could power other areas. As we’ve seen with Tesla’s new rooftop solar unit, and efforts in other countries, like Australia, to build large-scale solar plants, this is a goal well within reach.
Next, while in transition from fossil fuel to solar, it’d be necessary to rely on other renewables. “We’ll need to be a combination of utility-scale solar and rooftop solar, combined with wind, geothermal, hydro, probably some nuclear for a while, in order to transition to a sustainable situation,” Musk explained.
Finally, the U.S. has to build more localized power sources, like the rooftop solar setups. “People do not like transmission lines going through their neighborhood, they really don’t like that, and I agree,” Musk said. “Rooftop solar, utility solar; that’s really going to be a solution from the physics standpoint. I can really see another way to really do it.”
Scientists have developed a solar cell that is capable of converting direct sunlight into electricity with 44.5 percent efficiency — making it, potentially, the most efficient solar cell in the world. Current solar technology only converts electricity with a maximum efficiency of about 25 percent. The impressive cell works by stacking multiple layers of solar hardware into a single cell, each of which absorbs a different aspect of the solar spectrum.
This new tech is innovative compared to other cells in two regards. First, it uses transfer printing, which allowed the scientists to assemble the component parts with a high degree of precision. Second, it uses materials derived from gallium antimonide (GaSb) substrates, which are usually reserved for infrared lasers and photodetectors, in order to absorb every part of the direct sunlight.
Matthew Lumb, lead author on the study, stated that “our new device is able to unlock the energy stored in the long-wavelength photons, which are lost in conventional solar cells, and therefore provides a pathway to realizing the ultimate multi-junction solar cell.”
The Solar Revolution
As with any piece of energy converting technology, in order to maximize the amount of energy produced, one can either increase the quantity of converters, or improve the efficiency of the converters themselves. If this technology is scaled up, solar panels would require roughly half the space to produce the same amount of energy as the systems in place today due to their greater efficiency.
Although producing the initial was expensive, this experiment — and others like it — are crucial to show the upper limits of what is possible in solar technology. It has established a precedent, and the space in the market for another individual to make the cell cost effective.
Solar power already accounts for an increasing amount of energy produced worldwide, and it is becoming ever cheaper. Therefore, it is important to continue to find ways that make solar energy more and more effective so that it can surpass fossil-fuel based energy and become a green energy source capable of helping our planet (and us) to survive the harm we have caused it.
The world’s first power plant combining hydroelectric and solar power is now operational in Portugal. The Alto Rabagão dam has been outfitted with 840 floating solar panels, which increase the plant’s total capacity of 68 MWh by 220 kWp. Within its first year, the station should generate 332 megawatt hours, enough to power 100 homes for a year.
The panels were created by Ciel & Terre International (C&T), developers of the floating solar system Hydrelio. The system is designed to allow ecologically friendly floating photovoltaic (FPV) panels made out of recyclables to be installed on large bodies of water rather than eating up valuable space on land.
Additionally, the panels partially shield the water, which helps to slow evaporation and the growth of algae. The panels also reduce waves within the reservoir, cutting down on the erosion of its banks.
The main goal behind C&T’s FPV panels is to generate energy while maximizing the use of an artificial body of water. Installing the panels on dams makes plants more profitable and produces more energy. The panels collect sunlight during daylight hours, and hydropower can be used during peak demand times and after dark.
C&T estimates that if only 10 percent of the world’s 50 largest dams were outfitted with FPV panels, 400 gigawatts (GW) of solar electricity could be produced.
According to The Huffington Post, if the Alto Rabagão dam project succeeds, the system might be used to meet the power demands of other countries. One of those could be Brazil, where the utility behind the project, Energias de Portugal (EDP), does business on a large scale. “It has all the ingredients to succeed, a solution of this kind,” EDP project manager Paulo Pinto told the Diário de Notícias.
Portugal has created the right climate for the project’s success by promoting strong renewables policies. The country also enjoys annual sunshine duration of 2,500 hours and a high potential for FPV solutions due to its existing hydropower capacity. The hybrid solution in this case presents a great example of how existing energy systems can be enhanced by newer technologies to create better clean energy solutions.
Solar power is appealing for many reasons; it creates jobs, helps localities and states to develop economically, and lowers the cost of power over time. However, its greatest benefit is that it renders fossil fuel generated electricity unnecessary. Burning fossil fuels for power has a deadly cost, so solar power does and will save lives—but how can we quantify this benefit?
A 2016 study, as part of the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Sunshot Initiative, took aim at this question. The Sunshot Initiative’s goal is to drive down the costs of installed solar power to 6 cents a kilowatt and, in turn, expand solar power use to comprise greater shares of the US electricity supply: 14 percent by 2030 and 27 percent by 2050.
Even though the Sunshot Initiative has only recently begun, the benefits are already beginning to be noted. Some of the effects we are already experiencing from installed, operational solar power are described in the chart below:
Even before electric cars officially take over as the new normal, clean driving just isn’t enough for some. One company is looking to take green personal transportation to unprecedented heights. Lightyear is a next-generation car company from the Netherlands that is making some truly lofty promises. The company is working on bringing the world a vehicle powered not just by electricity, but by energy generated from the sun.
According to the company’s website, “all cars of the world combined drive one light year, every year.” Their mission is to switch from a fossil fuel powered light year of travel to one powered by the sun by 2030.
Lightyear is hoping to sidestep one of the major limitations and anxieties of electric vehicles: range. Mass adoption of electric vehicles could be hindered by a lack of investment in charging infrastructure. The website claims that “[o]nly 3% of the world population lives within 100 km of a publicly accessible charging station.”
Everything the Light Touches
The vehicle promised will be powered by energy stored in a battery that can be charged both by a standard (3.7 kW) outlet, as well as solar panels in the vehicle’s body. In a sunny environment like Hawaii, the car could theoretically run for months between charges. Even without the sun, the car could run for a significant range. “Depending on your battery configuration you have between 400 – 800 km of range buffered in the battery,” Lightyear says on their website’s FAQ section.
This technology has yet to be proven, although the company is planning to have ten vehicles produced in 2019. Cost is also a considerable barrier to obtaining one of these future cars. You can reserve one for €19,000 (around $21,700) — a small chunk of the overall €119,000 ($135,800) price tag. It’s an interesting addition to the EV lineup, so we’ll be sure to keep an eye on the development of this technology as the first prototype gets closer to hitting the road.
Things are not looking good for the coal industry. In the latest blow to this fossil fuel, the world biggest coal company is closing a total of 37 mines. It seems that the rise of solar power is playing a major role in the decline of coal. The company, Coal India, produces 82 percent of India’s coal, according to The Independent. The closings account for nine percent of Coal India’s sites.
The Indian government has recently shifted from coal to cleaner, renewable sources, most notably solar power. Just last week, the government announced that it has abandoned plans for building another coal power station with Chimanbhai Sapariya. T,he country’s energy minister noted that “Our focus is now on renewable energy. The government will encourage solar power.” The prices of solar power continue to plummet as technology and government incentives work to make renewable energy more attractive.
India is leading the way in a renewable energy revolution. Analyst Tim Buckley said, “Measures taken by the Indian government to improve energy efficiency coupled with ambitious renewable energy targets and the plummeting cost of solar has had an impact on existing as well as proposed coal-fired power plants, rendering an increasing number as financially unviable.”
Summer is rapidly approaching and bringing along with it the highest temperatures of the year, for most of the world. It already seems that this year will be keeping pace with recent years and offering up some of the warmest months in all of recorded history.
This past May has been recorded as the second hottest in history, being beaten only by May 2016, which was 0.93 degrees C (33.7 degrees F) higher than the mean temperature between 1951-1980. Every month this year has ranked in the top three warmest months in recorded history. According to The Weather Channel“February, March and April 2017 ranked as second warmest, while January 2017 finished in third place.”
Solar power is among the easiest ways for individuals to hop on the clean energy generation train. There are many incentives afforded to homeowners who are looking to make the switch to solar power. Even more, it is only getting cheaper to produce, install, and operate this technology. And with the advent of Tesla’s solar power generating roofing tiles, the process is getting a welcome aesthetic upgrade on top of all of the fantastic vertical integration their technology provides.
This boom is going to continue pushing solar power to the forefront of clean energy initiatives, as the cost of solar energy is expected to drop 66 percent by 2040. Furthermore, a report from Bloomberg states that in just four years’ time, solar power will finally be cheaper than coal “almost everywhere.” The report also claims that by 2040, up to 20 percent of Brazil’s power will be generated by the sun, and Germany will be at 15 percent.
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A New Age In Energy?
As with most energy and cost efficient power alternatives, there’s a lot of misinformation surrounding solar energy — even when we’re faced with hard facts outlining their benefits. Consider the fact that it took nearly 30 years for fluorescent light bulb (also known as CFL) sales and dependency to rise, as Americans were unwilling to switch over from incandescent bulbs until 2010.
Tried and true sustainable products often sit on the market for a while before they become “trendy enough” to be purchased. But now, thanks to some promising developments from Tesla,(including some slicker-than-expected solar panel roofs) the value and importance of solar power is finally getting the momentum it so critically needs.
These moves are important because, not only is solar power cost effective, it reduces our reliance on fossil fuels, which is an imperative issue we need to tackle. Humanity’s current net emission is
Humanity’s current net emission is 37 gigatonnes of CO₂, meaning we’ll need a reduction of at least 700 gigatonnes to keep global warming within safe limits. By switching over to solar power, we reduce our carbon dioxide emissions by over 37 million metric tons. And while it might be hard to see past your own finances, switching to solar power saves the United States over $400 billion in healthcare and environmental cleanup costs. But back to your wallet: solar panels pay for themselves in six to 15 years and increase the resale value of a house by about $15,000.
But solar power technology is nothing new. In fact, a similar standard of today’s models has been around since the 1960s. And since that time, panels have only become more efficient, more dynamic, and more attractive. So, what’s taken us so long to consider the switch?
Making A Change
It’s the myths that deter people from trusting in the technology. Most commonly, potential consumers worry that solar panels will not work in cold or cloudy climates. The truth is, they’re highly functional in cold climates, as conductivity is increased at colder temperatures. And, Germany, a country that receives half as much Sun as the sunniest city in the United States, has the most successful solar power system in the world.
Now that Tesla has shown us how chic the solar panel roof of the future will look, skeptical homeowners will be more likely to make that change.
If you’re curious about the potential to save money and the planet, check out a solar power advocate like Understand Solar and get a proper estimate for your home. When faced with the facts, it’s hard to see it any other way: solar power roofs are essential investments for your home and the future. Fill out a cost estimate form and get access to exclusive deals in your area, and a fast and easy estimate to get things started.
Recently, on May 31st, the world’s first commercial carbon dioxide (CO2) capture plant was opened in Hinwil, Switzerland by Climeworks, using a scalable and modular design. The company hopes that the design features combined with its commercial potential will encourage other, similar plants to open. They “estimate around 250,000 DAC-plants like the one in Hinwil are necessary” to reach their target of capturing one percent of global emissions by 2025 (10 gigatonnes per year, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).
The plant will remove 900 tons of CO2 from the atmosphere each year by passing it through a proprietary filter, which is heated to 100 degrees Celsius (212 degrees Fahrenheit) to release the gas. The gas from the Hinwil station is then fed to nearby greenhouses to help plants grow, and could increase lettuce harvest yields by 20 percent. Climeworks claims that the CO2 could also be used by soft drink companies to carbonate drinks, and by energy companies to produce carbon-neutral hydrocarbon fuels and materials.
Integration into Strategy
This power plant has the potential to be a key ally in the fight against climate change because it provides a way to get rid of CO2 emissions. This allows us to minimize damage while producing energy, however, we must also work to repair what we have already done (and continue to do). This technology could be integrated into a wider plan with carbon-neutral fuels like nuclear, solar, and wind power.
And, as previously mentioned, this plant is also commercially viable, like renewable solutions like solar power have become. This is important because it does not force businesses to sacrifice profits in order to become more “green”. In fact, the CO2 produced by this plant could even be used by power plants to cleanly convert CO2 into methanol fuel.
The Beatles may have well predicted the future for their mother country as the Sun now shines bright in the United Kingdom. According to the National Grid, almost 25 percent of Great Britain’s electricity demand was served by solar at midday Friday. The clean energy source generated 8.7 gigawatts, which is more than the previous record set on May 10, when solar generated 8.48 gigawatts.
“We now have significant volumes of renewable energy on the system, and as this trend continues, our ability to forecast these patterns is becoming more and more important,” Duncan Burt, who oversees the National Grid’s control room operations, told theIndependent.
“This is a colossal achievement … and sends a very positive message to the U.K. that solar has a strong place in the decarbonization of the U.K. energy sector,” Paul Barwell, chief executive of the Solar Trade Association, pointed out.
As Barwell noted, this marks the first time solar panels generated more electricity in the U.K. than nuclear plants. Natural gas and coal remain the country’s top suppliers of electricity, however.
Stacking up on Renewables
This milestone is obviously a win for renewables and a sign that nations are moving toward cleaner energy sources.
The steady rise of solar energy is made possible in part by the decrease in the cost of solar panels. At the same time, it doesn’t hurt that the solar industry is also providing jobs in places desperate for them, such as the U.S. As Hannah Martin, head of energy for Greenpeace UK, told theIndependent, “All around the world, solar power keeps beating new records as costs come down and power generation goes up. In the U.S., more people were employed in generating electricity from solar last year than from coal, oil, and gas combined.”
There’s a new solar power gig in Dubai in a very unexpected location: a gas station. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) just built its first solar powered gas station on Dubai’s main Sheikh Zayed Road. Constructed by the Emirates National Oil Company (ENOC), the new service station is covered with solar panels capable of generating up to 120 kilowatt hours.
According to ENOC, the panels produce about 30 percent more energy than what the gas station actually needs. Therefore, the excess power the panels generate gets sent back into Dubai’s electric grid.What makes the development particularly fascinating is that Dubai is one of the world’s biggest oil producers, yet it’s been taking an active lead in pushing for renewable and cleaner energy.
Atmospheric CO2 has hit more than 400 parts per million (ppm), the highest peak in 800,000 years, which has caused global surface temperatures to rise about one degree Celsius (33.8 degrees Fahrenheit) since 1880. 15 of the 16 warmest years in recorded history have occurred since 2001, and 2014, 2015, and 2016 have each taken the title of warmest year on record. U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis has acknowledged that climate change constitutes a serious problem for the U.S. government and merits a “whole-of-government response.”
Chicago is heeding that message, providing that response at the municipal level. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, leading a coalition of Chicago municipal agencies, announced on April 9 that the city has committed to transitioning all city buildings to 100 percent renewable energy use by 2025. Once this transition is completed, Chicago will be America’s largest city to supply its public buildings with 100 percent renewable energy.
In 2016, the city, Chicago Public Schools (CPS), the Park District, Chicago Housing Authority (CHA), and Chicago City Colleges (CCC) together used almost 1.8 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity — about eight percent of the city’s total electricity use. This amount of energy would take 300 wind turbines one year to generate and could alone power around 295,000 Chicago homes. The city plans to meet their ambitious commitment through a combined strategy of on-site generation, utility-supplied renewable energy via Illinois’ Renewable Portfolio Standard, and acquiring renewable energy credits.
Cleaner Cities, Cleaner World
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), air pollution in many large cities around the world is well above guidelines, with almost 90% of people in urban centers breathing air that exceeds dangerous levels. In fact, around half of global urban populations endure pollution at least 2.5 times higher than what the WHO recommends.
Chicago and its agencies are working to ensure that its citizens are not among those statistics. In 2013, the city eliminated coal energy completely. CPS, CCC, and the Park District have been using solar arrays and other renewable energy sources since 2009 and they continue to expand their use of renewables. In addition, despite a 12% growth in jobs and a 25,000 person population increase between 2010 and 2015, the city managed to reduce its carbon emissions by seven percent.
One week before this announcement, Mayor Emanuel announced that the city’s Smart Lighting Project, which will replace outdated lighting fixtures with an energy-efficient management grid, will begin on the south and west sides of the city this summer. And, earlier this week, the city of Chicago was awarded a 2017 ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year Award by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for its protection of the environment through outstanding contributions to energy efficiency.
“By committing the energy used to power our public buildings to wind and solar energy, we are sending a clear signal that we remain committed to building a 21st century economy here in Chicago,” Mayor Emanuel said in a press release.
War has long gone high tech. While we may not yet have artificially intelligent robot soldiers, plenty of innovations have made our soldiers more reliant on electricity. Modern forces are in need of reliable sources of this power to successfully complete their missions around the world. The Air Force Research Laboratory’s Advanced Power Technology Office (APTO) is working on solutions to meet that need.
Working with the Air Force Civil Engineer Center, they hope to create “a totally deployable, self-sustaining power system.” They are making significant progress with a mobile renewable power station. The station is housed in a 10-foot long trailer and relies on a combination of batteries and solar panels. “We are taking what we learned and applying it to a rapidly deployable system,” says Air Force 1st Lt. Jason Goins, a project engineer. “We are looking at something that will be set up and deployed in an hour. If you can power a shelter in 30 minutes with affordable solar and wind, that’s spectacular.”
Air Force photo by Donna Lindner
The system is known as a microgrid. According to the APTO’s description, “Monocrystalline silicon solar panels are placed on top of each tent for energy production. A trailer, at center, holds the hardware, software, and lithium ion batteries that form the smart grid and provide energy backup should the grid fail.”
Having such technology in the presence of military operations provides some unique obstacles that your average solar farm may not have to consider. For this reason, the APTO is also working on making the solar panels bulletproof.
Renewable sources of power allow for a lot more than just a cleaner Earth: fossil fuel power generation simply can’t produce the kind of power possible with this type of technology. Diesel generators require constant refueling, which would be a serious physical burden on any mission.
The APTO plans to continue testing the tech and work with the Army to provide the best energy solutions for the U.S. military.
Now, with the intent of saving on power costs, the museum is switching to solar energy. According to communications director Brandon Robinson in an interview with WYMT, the project will save the museum at least $8,000 to $10,000 in energy costs on just one of their buildings alone.
“It is a little ironic,” Robinson said in the interview. “But you know, coal and solar and all the different energy sources work hand-in-hand. And, of course, coal is still king around here.”
Funding for the initiative was provided via a third party foundation, and the project will require the installation of 20 solar panels by Bluegrass Solar, costing around $17,000 to $20,000. Tre Sexton, who owns Bluegrass Solar, believes the investment will pay off within five to seven years.
Future of Solar Energy
Given how things are going in the field of renewable energy, it’s fair to say that the world’s long history with coal is coming to a close — especially with the advent of multiple renewable energy sources becoming more accessible and affordable to the public than ever before.
Perhaps the transition of this coal mining museum to solar energy will accomplish more than just cost cutting for the institution — for some, it may illustrate how we as a society are advancing towards a future of renewable energy.
Solar power is certainly on the rise around the world. There are massive solar power generating installations across Asia, with countries like Indiaand China taking turns being the home of the largest arrays.
Even the United States is making some massive strides with this source of renewable energy. In fact, solar energy is faring better than coal—even in terms of the economy. There are more people employed by the solar industry than in coal, and the price of solar power continues to fall. A trend that is likely to continue—especially if we continue to improve the efficiency of harvesting the sun’s energy.
To that end, researchers in Japan are doing their part: a team from the company Kaneko has recently announced breaking the efficiency record of solar panels—which now stands at 26.6 percent. “Improving the photoconversion efficiency of silicon solar cells is crucial to further the deployment of renewable electricity,” says the team.
The company’s approach—known as thin-film heterojunction (HJ) optimization—improves on a technique that layers silicon inside individual cells to minimize the space where electrons can’t exist. These spaces are call band gaps. A few more innovations allowed for the collection of a greater number of photons, leading to a more efficient panel.
Other approaches have been able to reach an even higher efficiency percentage, but they are not yet viable for consumer-friendly applications.
Continuing on this trend toward efficiency is only going to make the prices of solar power continue to drop. Improvements in production processes will speed this along as well, since panels that are cheaper to produce will cost less for the consumer. Last year, the world was able to double its solar power capacity—so just imagine what will be possible with higher efficiency capabilities.
The California Independent System Operator (ISO) tweeted on March 23 that it hit an all-time peak percentage of demand served by renewable sources of energy at 56.7 percent that day at 11:25 am. About 60 percent of that renewable energy was provided by solar energy sources, which is especially impressive given that it was still only spring. Of course, this isn’t really that surprising to anyone who’s paying attention in California, because renewable energy has been setting and breaking records repeatedly lately in that state.
In February California broke its record for percentage of peak power demand served by solar energy sources when almost 8,800 megawatts of solar power fueled the grid in a day. That record lasted less than a week — in wintertime, no less — as over 9,000 megawatts were generated in a single day. That record, too, was shattered almost immediately.
As solar costs continue to drop and wind remains among the least costly sources of energy available, California appears to be on track for making its 50 percent clean energy target by 2030 with ease. Getting to 100 percent is going to take some intervention, however, because the state is generating more power than it needs during daylight hours and not enough during peak hours after the sun goes down. And some California legislators have started to push for just that.
Legislating Green Solutions
A new bill is making its way through the state legislature that would require California’s utility companies to source at least 40 percent of their peak demand energy from clean sources by the end of 2027. This would essentially force the use of industrial batteries, pushing utilities and industry to work together to develop storage systems for solar power. The bill would also promote energy conservation and efficiency programs that reduce consumption of energy during peak times.
In a sense, the bill reflects California’s progress in its fight to limit Greenhouse Gas emissions. The state’s goals include reducing emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, and then 80 percent by 2050. Achieving these goals will mean not just more renewables, but making better use of the renewables that are there, and running the grid without backup from fossil fuels.
Critics of the bill argue that the government should set the goals and then let the market work out how best to meet them. If fighting climate change is the goal, critics reason, then the government should mandate either increased use of renewables, reductions in emissions, or both, and then step aside to allow market-sourced solutions. They believe that energy storage wouldn’t be the market’s response, because it is relatively costly and indirect in terms of the end goal of fighting climate change.
However, although batteries are currently too costly for adoption on a larger scale, their proponents respond that incentivizing new technologies is a strategy that has historically succeeded in California, and that there is no requirement that implementation of batteries be completely in the black the moment the legislation goes online.
It remains to be seen which solutions will work best for California in the relatively short time frame that remains before the deadlines it has set for itself. There’s no doubt that the state has targeted aggressive goals, and while Californians are differing in the details of how to meet them, they appear united in the push to achieve them.
Tesla’s solar roof tiles, courtesy of Musk’s newly acquired renewable energy company SolarCity, are expected to be tougher than regular shingles, but cost less. Tesla has previously revealed plans for four different styles for their solar tiles, but production will begin with just one type. New styles will be added gradually every few months, if all goes according to plan.
With its solar roof tiles and Powerwall 2, Tesla is creating a sustainable energy ecosystem for the home. It’s a revolutionary idea. Making renewable energy available to every home could go a long way toward reducing the world’s dependence on fossil fuels, which would do a world of good in the global fight against climate change.
The core vision in the scenario publication “The Future as Told Through the Garden and the Streets” is that technologies for the hyperconnected planet enable a decoupling between increasing well-being and the consumption of natural resources. The basic requirement for that to happen is that the IoT and industrial internet technologies as a whole are energy neutral. To decouple well-being and the consumption of natural resources, overall energy consumption should decrease globally. Simply put, to maintain our current quality of life, the next technological paradigm cannot require more energy than it helps to save.
The requirement is tough. Nevertheless, there are multiple routes through which new technologies and behavior patterns can affect overall energy paradigms. One possibility is the emergence of sensors and devices that harvest energy for their own use. Another is lower marginal costs for renewable energy solutions and better efficiency of, for instance, solar energy. Or we might start to discover hyperconnected solutions that significantly increase energy efficiency as a whole through technological or behavioral progress.
Microscaling Energy Production
The transformation of the energy industry seems to be following a similar path as in the transformation of the information industry. This industry used to consist of strategic information production facilities, i.e. the press, television companies and other media companies. Currently, most information is produced locally and delivered through corporate platforms such as Facebook and Google. Soon, most information will be produced at a microscale and will be machine readable only. Most of this “nanoscale” information does not go to a shared platform but is stored and analyzed locally. For example, the 5G standard will allow this kind of local operations for information.
Currently, most energy is produced at the macroscale in strategic facilities, such as nuclear plants, coal plants and even centralized solar power plants. Strategic energy production is the most efficient way to produce electricity. It is also the most vulnerable, as the energy source (typically different forms of coal and oil) and the electricity generation facilities are centralized, leading to a fierce competition over their control for political reasons.
We are currently seeing the ongoing transformation to local production. This microscale production most often occurs on the rooftops of homes and factories, with rooftop solar and wind devices (although small-scale nuclear plants are also sometimes proposed). The production of energy (especially heat) used to be done at the microscale before the turn of the previous century. Previously, factories were constructed next to rivers and could produce the required energy locally, and houses had stoves to warm them up. Still in 2013, more than 2.7 billion people – 38% of the world’s population – were estimated to have relied on the traditional use of solid biomass for cooking (IEA, hat tip for the fact to Reddit user kundun).
Nanoscale energy production means producing electricity on the device level. This is made possible especially by the development of better supercaps that free devices from batteries, energy-efficient circuit boards and printable solar cells. As the devices we use get smaller and become first wearables and then nearables, energy harvesting becomes easier and easier. This is a huge systematic change because of the size of the energy markets. Thus, it is also a major business opportunity. But nanoscale energy production also must happen. This nanoscale energy production is what truly makes it reasonable to claim that we can have a hyperconnected planet without increasing the use of limited natural resources.
In a post-energy society, it will be possible to generate energy at the macroscale, microscale, and nanoscale. Every item will be able to generate its own energy. And when energy harvesting happens everywhere, we just might get the right amount of energy abundance – an energy singularity, if I may say so.
When energy is abundant, it does not matter anymore: we will be free from it. Then, anything from a Dyson sphere to a fair world will be possible.
According to a new study, if the top U.S. cities identified as having the most solar rooftop potential were utilized, the country could produce enough to power 8 million homes across the country.
This statistic was released by Project Sunroof, which uses data from Google Maps and Google Earth, as well as 3D modeling and machine learning, to determine the potential impact of consistent adoption of solar power.
County-level solar coverage from 2015 – 2017
For their study, around 60 million buildings were analyzed, which provided key insight into the potential of solar energy in the U.S. According to their findings:
79 percent of rooftops included in the study can be used for solar power.
In states like Hawaii, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico, 90 percent of homes can be utilized for solar power.
States like Pennsylvania, Maine, and Minnesota still reach 60 percent viability for solar power generation.
Houston, Texas, has the highest solar potential among all U.S. cities studied. Around 18,940 gigawatt hours (GWh) could potentially be produced if homes were converted to support solar generation.
Other cities that show high potential for solar rooftop generation include Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Antonio, and New York.
Solar has long been known as an efficient and low-carbon source of electricity. But thus far, adoption has been limited because of cost. Recent advances in the field, however, saw the price of solar power and infrastructure drop dramatically, making it a viable, if not preferred, source of power generation.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average U.S. home will consume 10,812 kilowatt hour (kWh) annually. There are one million kWh in one GWh, which means one GWh or energy will already be enough to supply power to 90 homes all year.
The world’s solar capacity is currently at 305 gigawatts, with countries like the U.S., China, and the United Kingdom leading the rest of Europe. Given the collective capacity of all countries, the amount of solar energy has nearly doubled since 2015. The city of New York, for example, has already increased its solar power use by over 800 percent, and California is boasting a 34 percent share of the overall country’s solar use.
Advancements in solar power technology, combined with these recent findings, underscore just how accessible sustainable and green energy can be these days. Where cost was once a barrier, a continued push to ensure that the technology becomes available to more and more people means the world can realistically shift from traditional carbon-emitting sources to renewables.
Solar panels are undergoing rapid evolution in the last ten years. I’ve written about this in previous posts in the blog (see for example the forecast that we’ll have flying cars by 2035, which is largely dependent on the sun providing us with an abundance of electricity). The graph below is pretty much saying it all: the cost for producing just one watt of solar energy has gone down to somewhere between 1 percent and 0.5 percent of what it used to be just forty years ago.
At the same time that prices go down, we see more installations of solar panels worldwide, roughly doubling every 2-3 years. Worldwide solar capacity in 2014 has been 53 times higher than in 2005, and global solar photovoltaic installations grew 34% in 2015 according to GTM Research.
It should come as no surprise that regulators are beginning to take note of the solar trend. Indeed, two small California cities – Lancastar and Sebastopol – passed laws in 2013 requiring new houses to include solar panels on their roofs. And now, finally, San Francisco joins the fray as the first large city in the world to require solar panels on every new building.
San Francisco has a lofty goal: meeting all of its energy demands by 2025, using renewable sources only. The new law seems to be one more step towards that achievement. But more than that, the law is part of a larger principle, which encompasses the Internet of Things as well: the Activation of Everything.
The Activation of Everything
To understand the concept of the Activation of Everything, we need to consider another promising legislation that will be introduced soon in San Francisco by Supervisor Scott Wiener. Supervisor Wiener is allowing solar roofs to be replaced with living roofs – roofs that are covered with soil and vegetation. According to a 2005 study, living roofs reduce cooling loads by 50-90 percent, and reduce stormwater waste and runoff to the sewage. They retain much of the rainwater, which later goes back to the atmosphere through evaporation. They enhance biodiversity, sequester carbon and even capture pollution. Of course, not every plant can be grown efficiently on such roofs – particularly not in dry California – but there’s little doubt that optimized living roofs can contribute to the city’s environment.
Supervisor Wiener explains the reasons behind the solar power legislation in the following words –
“This legislation will activate our roofs, which are an under-utilized urban resource, to make our City more sustainable and our air cleaner. In a dense, urban environment, we need to be smart and efficient about how we maximize the use of our space to achieve goals like promoting renewable energy and improving our environment.”
Pay attention to the “activate our roofs” part. Supervisor Wiener is absolutely right in that the roofs are an under-utilized urban resource. Whether you want to use those roofs to harvest solar power or to grow plants and improve the environment, the idea is clear. We need to activate – in any means possible – our resources, so that we maximize their use.
That is what the Activation of Everything principle means: activate everything, whether by allowing surfaces and items to harvest power or resources, or to have sensing and communication capabilities. In a way, activation can also mean convergence: take two functions or services that were performed separately in the past, and allow them to be performed together. In that way, a roof is no longer just a means to provide shade and protection from the weather, but can also harvest energy and improve the environment.
The Internet of Things is a spectacular example for implementing the Activation of Everything principle. In the Internet of Things world, everything will be connected: every roof, every wall, every bridge and shirt and shoe. Every item will be activated to have added purposes. Our shirts will communicate our respiration rate to our physicians. Bricks in walls will report on their structural integrity to engineers. Bridges will let us know that they’re close to maximum capacity, and so on.
The Internet of Things largely relies on sophisticated electronic technologies, but the Activation of Everything principle is more general than that. The Activation of Everything can also mean creating solar or living roofs, or even creating walls that include limestone-secreting bacteria that can fix cracks as soon as they form.
Where else can we implement the Activation of Everything principle in the future?
The Activation of Cars
There have been many ideas to create roads that can harvest energy from cars’ movements. Unfortunately, the Laws of Thermodynamics reveal that such roads will in fact ‘steal’ that energy from passing cars, by making it more difficult for them to travel along the road. Not a good idea. The activation of roofs works well specifically because it has a good ROI (Return on Investment), with a relatively low energetic investment and large returns. Not so with energy-stealing roads.
But there’s another unutilized resource in cars – the roof. We can use the Activation principle to derive insights about the future of car roofs: hybrid cars will be covered with solar panels, which will be used to harvest energy when they’re sitting in the parking lot, and store it for the ride home.
Don’t get the math wrong: cars with solar roofs won’t be able to drive endlessly. In fact, if they rely only on solar power, they’ll barely even crawl. However, they will be able to power the electrical devices in the car, and trucks may even use solar energy on long journeys, to cool the wares they carry. If the cost of solar panel installation continues to go down, these uses could be viable within the decade.
The Activation of Farmlands
Farmlands are being activated today in many different ways: from sensors all over the field, and sometimes in every tree trunk, to farmers supplementing their livelihood by deploying solar panels and ‘farming electricity’. Some are combining both solar panels and crop and animal farming by spreading solar panels at a few meters height above the field, and growing plants that can make the most of the limited sunlight that gets to them.
The Activation of the Air
Even the air around us can be activated. Aerial drones may be considered an initial attempt to activate the sky by filling them with flying sensors, but they are large, cumbersome and interfere with aerial traffic and with the view. However, we’ll be able to activate air in various other ways in the future, such as smart dust – extremely small sensors with limited wireless connectivity that will transmit data about their whereabouts and the conditions there.
The Activation of Food
Food is one of the only things that have barely been activated so far. Food today serves only two goals: to please by tasting great, and to nourish the body. According to the principle of Activation, however, food will soon serve several other purposes. Food items could be used to deliver therapeutics or sensors into the body, or possibly be produced with built-in biocompatible electronics and LEDs to make the food look better on the plate.
A Living World
As human beings, we’ve always searched for ways to optimize efficiency and to make the best use of the limited resources we have. One of those limited resources is space, which is why we try to activate – add functions – to every surface and item today.
It’s fascinating to consider how the Activation of Everything will shape our world in the next few decades. We will have sensors everywhere, solar panels everywhere, batteries and electronics everywhere. It will be a world where nothing is as it seems at first glance anymore. An activated world – a living world indeed.
Elon Musk is never shy about making grand announcements and declaring his ambitious plans, especially when they’re anchored in his vision for a more sustainable future. His latest promise is to help South Australia create a solar farm that will address the their energy issues in just one hundred days — or he’ll do the work for free.
In South Australia, energy prices continue to surge, and local companies remain unable to meet public energy demand — mostly due to environmental concerns. Last year, storms led to a state-wide blackout that shut down operations for numerous ports and public transportation, as well as disrupting business operations in the fifth most populous state in the country.
To that end, co-founder of SolarCity (and Musk’s cousin) Lyndon Rive says they’re capable of installing 100 to 300 megawatt per hour battery storage, which could solve South Australia’s energy issues. And while Rive doesn’t “have 300 MWh sitting there ready to go,” he told AFR that he can certainly get them.
After making this statement, Mike Cannon-Brookes, CEO of Atlassian, tweeted Lyndon and Musk if they were indeed serious about the offer.
@mcannonbrookes Tesla will get the system installed and working 100 days from contract signature or it is free. That serious enough for you?
On Cannon-Brookes’ end, he asked for seven days to “sort out politics and funding,” at which point he also requested that the Tesla CEO send an approximate quote on how much a 100MW battery farm — at “mates rates” — would cost.
According to Musk, it would cost $250 per kWh to produce over 100MWh. He’s confident that Tesla could get the system installed and working within one hundred days of signing a contract.
Assuming that Cannon-Brookes can indeed secure the paperwork needed to get the project underway, Tesla certainly has a reputation when it comes to delivering on its promises. Last year, Tesla took on a similar project in California: a 80MW farm that was completed in just 90 days that provided grid-scale power in response to possible power shortages.
The rise of the solar energy industry is astounding. Though virtually nothing in the early 2000s, the world’s solar capacity is now at 305 gigawatts. The countries taking the lead in this worldwide solar power surge are the United States and China, with the United Kingdom leading the rest of Europe.
In Europe, despite suffering setbacks due to cuts in government incentives for solar adoption, the U.K. managed to increase its solar capacity by 29 percent, with Germany following at 21 percent and France with 8.3 percent.
As the world faces the realities of climate change, with global temperatures hitting another all-time-high record in 2016, efforts to fight the climate problem are now more crucial than ever. One of the ways governments and various groups in the private sector can contribute to this fight is through the increased use of renewable energy sources, like solar energy.
“In order to meet the Paris [climate agreement] targets, it would be important if solar could continue its rapid growth,” explained James Watson, chief executive at SolarPower Europe. “The global solar industry is ready to do that and can even speed up.” To reach the goals of the agreement, half of the world’s energy must be generated from renewables by 2060.
Solar energy isn’t the only alternative source currently being explored and developed. Other efforts include harnessing wind energy, which just covered more than 50 percent of one U.S. power grid’s energy demands. Efforts are being undertaken to improve nuclear energy production, specifically research in sustainable fusion, as well as developments in solar fuel technology. With all of these efforts combined, humanity has a chance to stop or even reverse the damage done to the planet.
According to a recent report by Australian non-profit the Climate Council, solar energy is now cheaper than retail power in most capital cities in Australia, with prices dropping 58 percent globally in the past five years. With costs expected to drop between 40 to 70 percent more by 2040, we can only expect a rise in adoption and usage in that country and others around the globe.
“We are seeing more and more industrial-scale solar coming online across the country and the world. Hospitals, airports, farms and a variety of other businesses have embraced smarter and cleaner power,” Greg Bourne, expert Councillor with the Climate Council, told SBS.
Nearly 7,000 solar batteries were installed in Australian homes last year, and that number is expected to triple in 2017. The Council adds in its report that industrial-scale solar plants are now providing cheaper power versus traditional coal plants. Twenty solar power plants are scheduled to be built around Australia, which will see an additional 3,700 megawatts of solar energy — that’s enough to power 600,000 homes. This will no doubt help Australia achieve its goal of reaching 20 gigawatts of solar generation in the next two decades.
Transitioning to renewable energy is not only necessary as we continue to see and feel the effects of climate change, it also makes economic sense.
For a country like Australia, where sunshine is abundant, supporting the growth of solar energy can create new jobs and new industries. More than 8,000 Australians already hold jobs in the solar industry, ranging from salespeople and manufacturers to electricians and installers. Projections expect that with renewable energy reaching 50 percent by 2030, Australia alone will benefit from 28,000 new jobs.
Globally, 2.8 million people have jobs in the industry, which is more than those with coal jobs. In fact, in the United States, solar accounts for double the number of jobs as coal. “The era of coal is over and global investment has moved firmly to renewable energy,” added the Climate Council in a statement. “Solar power is cheaper, has no fuel costs, is non-polluting and it is clear that it will be a key of Australia’s future.”
Along with Australia, countries like China, the U.S., and Japan are at the forefront of renewable energy, with many other countries around the globe following suit. In 2015, a study showed that the U.S. could be completely powered by renewable energy by 2050. In 2016, almost all of Costa Rica’s electricity was generated using renewable sources. Germany, in an effort to phase out nuclear energy, is also well on its way to making other renewable energy sources more viable. As these individual efforts and global ones like the Paris Agreement take shape, we will hopefully see a tangible impact on our environment.
New York is putting its money where its mouth is when it comes to a clean energy commitment. The state boasts an almost 800 percent increase in solar power over the past five years.
According to a statement made earlier this week by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, “New York is a national leader in clean energy, and the tremendous growth of the solar industry across this state demonstrates this renewal technology’s increased accessibility and affordability for residents and businesses.”
The state generated 83.06 MW of solar power in 2011. Last year, that increased by 795 percent to 743.65 MW. The state has invested $1.5 billion in the renewable source of energy, and its governor recognizes the massive impact renewable energy has on the economy. “Our investments in this clean energy resource create jobs, reduce carbon emissions, support economic growth, and help build a cleaner, greener New York for all,” said Cuomo.
National Push Forward
This kind of push to greater reliance on renewable sources of energy is not isolated to any one state. States across the country and even countries around the globe are moving to decrease fossil fuel use. Now that solar power is the cheapest source for new energy, it has become fiscally responsible on top of it already being environmentally prudent.
The plant was built in only eight months, comprises 2.5 million individual solar modules and cost $679m to build. It is estimated that it will produce enough electricity to power about 150,000 homes at full capacity.
A signatory of the Paris Agreement, India is forecast to meet its renewable energy commitments three years early and exceed them by nearly half. The country is aiming to generate nearly 60% of its electricity from non-fossil sources by 2027.
Solar is a particular focus: it makes up only 16% of renewable energy capacity now but is set to contribute over half of the renewables target by 2022: 100 gigawatts of 175 GW. Large installations will be key to achieving this, and the government is planning 33 solar parks in 21 states, with a capacity of at least 500 megawatts each.
Plugging a Gap
Prioritizing solar is not just an investment in the future, though. India is one of the world’s fastest growing economies, and its energy use has doubled since 2000, according to the International Energy Agency.
Last year, the country declared that it had a power surplus for the first time ever, though The Hindu reported that 300 million people still don’t have access to electricity and power cuts continue to be ‘rampant.’ The issue, it appears, is that capacity remains unused in the grid because some state power companies simply cannot afford to buy sufficient electricity.
The Indian government has recently launched an energy ‘blueprint’, and raised its investment target for solar energy to $100 billion in an attempt to address both these near-term issues as well as securing its energy supply far into the future.
There’s a lot of sun in Nevada, so it only makes sense to harness its power. That’s why long-time solar champion and Nevada legislature assemblyman Chris Brooks proposed AB 206, a bill that pushes the state’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS) from its current 22 percent goal to 80 percent by 2040.
The bill pushes an incremental increase in Nevada’s RPS goal on a two-year interval. This would start with a 4 percent increase in 2018-2019 that would put the RPS goal at 26 percent. In each subsequent year, it would increase by 4 percent until 2030, when utility companies would be required to produce 50 percent of their energy using renewable sources.
AB 206 is very supportive of solar energy in Nevada, both in terms of rooftop and utility-scale solar power. While it cuts the existing requirement for utilities to generate 5 percent of their RPS goal from solar power, the bill includes making solar power sent from homes to the grid a mandatory goal for utilities. Nevada’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) recently approved a deal between NV Energy and SolarCity that gives customers the right to retain their retail rate net metering deal, so this bill would be the second big win for solar in the state.
A Renewed Effort
Nevada joins Massachusetts in the effort to push the use of renewable energy sources. The latter state recently introduced a similar bill in its state assembly that pushes for 100 percent renewable energy use in Massachusetts by 2035.
The reasons for both bills are the essentially the same, which is to “encourage and accelerate the development of new renewable energy projects for the economic, health, and environmental benefits provided to the people of this State,” according to AB 206.
As the federal government seems to favor fossil fuels, it’s left to states like Nevada and Massachusetts to keep renewable energy efforts moving through government channels. Hopefully, more states will follow in the path of these pioneers of renewable energy.
The US’ renewable energy industry is currently thriving. A survey released by The Solar Foundation shows that the solar industry has nearly tripled employment since they started tracking its growth back in 2010.
According to the study, 260,000 people are now employed by the solar industry. The majority of positions are currently in installation, with workers earning an average of $25.96 per hour. The biggest market so far, is residential, which encompasses 41 percent of available jobs; with the commercial and utility-scale markets trailing behind.
The Solar Foundation reports:
Solar employs slightly more workers than natural gas, over twice as many as coal, over three times that of wind energy, and almost five times the number employed in nuclear energy. Only oil/petroleum has more employment (by 38%) than solar.
To date, California has the biggest solar capacity in the US, accounting for 34 percent of installations in 2016. But as the study notes, states such as New Jersey, New York, Texas, South Carolina, and Utah have also seen a significant rise in solar installations.
Fast Growing Industry
Right now, solar energy accounts for only 1.3 percent of the US’ electricity, but it is poised for unprecedented growth. Case in point, last year, solar only accounted for just one in every 50 jobs in the country. Today, it has already overtaken traditional jobs offered in the coal energy industry.
Since solar is still a burgeoning industry, the physical installation element still keeps costs up. But, as technology advances and the labor-intensive nature of the solar industry lessens, costs will only continue to drop and the renewable resource will be a more prominent source of energy.
Once solar becomes a dominant energy source, it’s possible that the industry might not deliver the volume of manual job opportunities it initially did. However, as with all industries, advancements in technology will create a need for alternate types of jobs. This transition to renewable resources will not only create new types of jobs but make current workplace efforts less costly because of lowering solar energy costs. As the future becomes the present and the nature of solar energy work changes, one thing remains
As the future becomes the present and the nature of solar energy work changes, one thing remains constant. The more fossil fuel sources that can be replaced by renewable energy, the better off we all will be. From the financial burden of fossil fuel to the impending realities of climate change, renewable energy like solar will only become a more necessary resource.
China has proven that it is, in fact, very serious about its intentions to lessen dependence on coal. According to China’s National Energy Administration (NEA), the country has more than doubled its solar energy production in 2016—making them the biggest producer of solar energy (in terms of capacity) in the world
By the end of last year, China hit 77.42 gigawatts, which generated 66.2 billion kilowatt-hours of power. While significant, the figure is relatively small given China’s massive population. And being the world’s biggest industrial nation, this only accounted for one percent of the country’s total power generation. However, given that China is looking to significantly boost its use of renewable power, that number will hopefully increase in the years to come.
Following NEA’s development plan and energy goals, the country is working towards adding over 110 gigawatts of capacity by 2020. With continued focus and effort, they hope to increase their use of renewable power from 11 percent to 20 percent by 2030.
Transitioning to renewable energy will require a significant investment from China, but it’s an investment that China is clearly ready to make. In fact, the country has already allotted $364 billion (2.5 trillion yuan) towards this vision. Since China is such a large producer with such a massive population, this large step towards sustainability will have a tremendous impact. With the ever-progressing repercussions of climate change upon us, efforts like this are what make a green future possible.
Some very exciting numbers concerning renewable energy have just been revealed in a recent jobs report. According to the report, which was released by the United States’ Department of Energy, more people in the Electric Power Generation sector are employed by solar power than oil, gas, or coal power generation combined.
The report shows that from 2015 to 2016, solar energy employed 374,000 people, while all of the fossil fuels combined only accounted for 187,117 employees. This translates to 43 and 22 percent of the electric power workforce, respectively. The report states, “Proportionally, solar employment accounts for the largest share of workers in the Electric Power Generation sector. This is largely due to the construction related to the significant build out of new solar generation capacity.”
The prospects of future of job growth in the renewable portion of the energy sector adds to the current promise of the technology. Electricity generation from solar power has increased by over 5,000 percent between 2006 and September 2016. Last year alone saw an increase of 191 percent in new solar installations. Comparatively, natural gas managed an increase of just 33 percent during that same 10 year period, while coal saw a dramatic decline of 53 percent. As the report says, “These shifts in electric generation source are mirrored in the sector’s changing employment profile, as the share of natural gas, solar, and wind workers increases, while coal mining and other related employment is declining.”
Economics Meets the Environment
One of the major driving forces behind the proliferation of solar power and other renewable sources of energy generation is that advancements in the necessary technology have made it cheaper to generate from renewable sources. Now, even if it’s just due to a concern for the bottom line, companies are beginning to come around to sustainable energy. Solar power has even recently become the cheapest source of new energy.
As stated, new installations of solar power make up a large portion of the jobs in solar energy. This is great news as it is possible that the United States could get 25 percent of its total energy needs just from rooftop solar panel installations. This is even without the help of solar farms. As pointed out by the Environmental Defense Fund in a posting with Forbes, these energy jobs are safe from outsourcing due to the on-site nature of jobs made available by renewables. They also add that these jobs pay nearly $5,000 above the national median wage.
Now that big business is beginning to see the light, there is a lot of momentum in clean energy. While many may see the environmental benefit of investing in renewable power, all can appreciate a new opportunity to make and save a lot of money.
“The promise of quasi-infinite and free energy is here,” Lepercq declares, in an interview with Bloomberg. His arguments aren’t based on any environmental concern. Rather, he takes the perspective of price.
“Solar, battery storage, electrical and hydrogen vehicles, and connected devices are in a ‘J’ curve,” Lepercq said. “Hydrogen is the missing link in a 100 percent renewable-energy system, but technological bricks already exist.” Lepercq believes that the price of solar power will probably fall below $10 per megawatt-hour (roughly 1¢/kWh) in the world’s sunniest places.
As a consequence of the rise of renewables, oil prices are expected to plummet. “Even if oil demand continues to climb until 2025, its price could drop to $10 if markets anticipate a significant fall in demand,” he said.
“As carmakers offer more electrical vehicles with a range exceeding 500 kilometers, charging stations being progressively deployed and more cities banning gasoline and diesel cars, a shift will progressively take place,” Lepercq added.
Indeed, gone are the days when people viewed renewable energy sources as too expensive. Instead, we are moving away from conventional coal-based sources, which could even be more expensive in the future.
Solar Power Shines
Lepercq isn’t alone in seeing the price potential of renewables, particularly solar energy. The World Economic Forum (WEF) recently published a report showing how solar power now costs cheaper than fossil fuels.
[R]enewable energy technology, especially solar and wind, has made exponential gains in efficiency in recent years, enough to achieve economic competitiveness and, in an increasing number of cases, grid parity. For instance, the unsubsidized, levellized cost of electricity (LCOE) for utility scale solar photovoltaic, which was highly uncompetitive only five years ago, has declined at a 20% compounded annual rate, making it not only viable but also more attractive than coal in a wide range of countries.
When it comes to obtaining new energy, solar energy now costs less than fossil fuels, according to a report by the World Economic Forum (WEF). Data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) also show decreased prices, with the mean price of solar power in about 60 countries dropping to $1.65 million per megawatt, closely followed by wind at $1.66 million per megawatt.
Michael Drexler, Head of Long Term Investing, Infrastructure and Development at the World Economic Forum, found the downturn in prices to be an encouraging sign.
“Renewable energy has reached a tipping point—it now constitutes the best chance to reverse global warming. Solar and wind have just become very competitive, and costs continue to fall. It is not only a commercially viable option, but an outright compelling investment opportunity with long-term, stable, inflation-protected returns.”
The US Energy Information Administration estimated that roughly 9.5 gigawatts of solar capacity was added to the country’s grid, making it the year’s top energy source. More and more households and companies are also going solar, adding 1.7 gigawatts of installed capacity.
“Solar investment has gone from nothing…five years ago to quite a lot,” said Ethan Zindler, analyst for BNEF in an interview at Bloomberg.
Decreases in price could be attributed to a large number of factors, like falling installation and equipment costs, new business ideas, and a rise in cleaner energy policies. A noticeable upshot in investment for solar energy undoubtedly helped, with China putting in a whopping $103 billion—more than that of the US, the UK, and Japan combined. Though it’s still not up to the agreed $1 trillion at the Paris accords, we may well be on our way.
A Brighter Tomorrow
Incredible milestones have been set this year, particularly in developing countries. Energy company SolarPack closed a deal to offer solar power in Chile for just $29.1 per megawatt-hour, which is about 60% cheaper than using a new natural gas plant.
BNEF chairman Michael Liebrich believes in the future of greener energy sources. “Renewables are robustly entering the era of undercutting [fossil fuels].”
Of course, the use of dirty energy will not stop just because other forms are cheaper in some parts of the world, but the promise here lies in the gradual impact that reports like those the WEF and the BNEF make: that humanity is not doomed to use fossil fuels, and that cleaner, alternative energy sources are actually viable.
In the next decade or so, the price of solar energy is expected to fall to about half of what it costs to generate electricity from coal. And all these estimations reck nothing of the possibilities of futuristic energy sources that are still in research and development, and are yet far over the horizon. Nuclear fusion, for instance, would certainly change the rules of the game, though it is proving to be rather more difficult of attainment than previously thought; other conceivable power technology, such as space-based solar energy, are equally remote, though promising.
So this exciting new research, combined with more energy-efficient tech and dedicated government policies, will perhaps shift our path from a future of pollution and depleted resources, to one with fresh air, cleaner surroundings, and the promise of unlimited energy.
While renewable energy continues to be more expensive in countries where coal and fossil fuels remain dominant, emerging projects elsewhere have managed to produce renewable electricity at lower costs. The Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) notes in a year-end assessment that solar power is now around half the price of coal and gas, making it cheaper than wind energy, and ultimately the cheapest form of new electricity.
Solar power has reached record-low costs in the past. The difference is that past instances were achieved in isolated projects, whereas now we’re talking large-scale implementation.
As more and more renewable energy projects reach completion, costs are expected to keep plummeting. In its long-term forecast, BNEF predicts that, while coal and gas costs will stay low, renewables will still do better and will be the cheapest in many countries between now and 2040. Liebrich also says these favorable developments will continue regardless of subsidies: “renewable energy will beat any other technology in most of the world without subsidies.”
“Political Earthquakes” Ahead
BNEF attributes the huge drop in costs to emerging markets, particularly in Chile, Brazil, Uruguay, South Africa, and India. China was also in the lead for deploying solar quickly, and assisting other countries in similar projects.
As clean energy sources progress, in a few years clean energy sources could be the best (and possibly the only) option in terms of performance, environmental preservation, and cost. Recent developments that hold promise include the Crescent Dunes project which allows harnessing of solar power even at night. Such projects may just make solar power available even to areas where solar power is considered an unreliable source. Commercial off-shore wind farms such as the one recently opened in the US might also make clean energy a viable option.
Liebrich notes, however, that rocky times may be ahead. More “political earthquakes” are expected next year, just as it was predicted that 2016 would be “sunny, with a hint of Götterdämmerung.”
“We were not wrong. As it turned out, 2016 delivered more than just a hint of Götterdämmerung, it delivered the complete Wagnerian Ring Cycle, in political terms at least.”
Solar power has been making some impressive strides in 2016. The first three quarters of this year have already seen more new installations of solar panels than the entirety of 2015. A report by GreenTech Media shows that in the third quarter (Q3) of this year alone, enough solar panels to generate 4,143 MW of electricity were installed in the United States. Q3 of 2016 has seen a 191 percent rise in installations from the same quarter last year, making it the new record holder for new solar power installations in the country.
Increased affordability could be a major driving force in the sudden boom in new installations. Priced per watt, there was a $0.14 drop between the first and third quarters. This brought total prices of residential solar power below $3.00 per watt.
Coming for Coal
Along with solar power becoming more affordable in general, it is also approaching coal in terms of cost effectiveness. This trend is also helped along by government programs that award tax breaks for the adoption of renewable energy. A report from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) shows the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) of various means of generation.
According to the EIS, LCOE “represents the per-kilowatt hour cost (in real dollars) of building and operating a generating plant over an assumed financial life and duty cycle.” For new plants set to go online in 2022 the LCOE of coal power is predicted at $139.50/kWh compared to solar photovoltaic power’s $66.30/kWh.
Energy experts are predicting that coal is a fading industry that will never return to its former grandeur. We can expect to continue to see this kind of sharp growth in solar power along with other forms of clean energy generation. A new study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) suggests that 25 percent of the United States’ energy needs could be filled by rooftop solar installations alone. Immediate economic interests are finally aligning with long-term environmental concerns.
Every day, that great big ball of nuclear reaction in the sky that we call the Sun graciously sends enough energy to Earth to fulfill all of our power needs ten times over. Sadly, we humans are not yet able to harness all this power as efficiently as other organisms on our planet.
While we have a long way to go before we can even begin to compete with photosynthesis, we are making progress. A new study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) suggests that 25 percent of the United States’ energy needs could be filled by rooftop solar installations alone.
Not every rooftop is ideal for solar paneling, and a combination of many factors determine how much electricity any given rooftop can generate. These factors include average sunlight of the area, as well as how much of that sunlight is allowed to reach the roof, uninhibited by pesky tall buildings, trees, or other shade-throwing structures.
Using this knowledge, the researchers at NREL studied a plethora of data to determine what percentage of rooftops would prove suitable for solar electricity generation. The study concluded that the U.S.’s suitable rooftops could collectively generate 1,118 gigawatts (GW) of power, enough to meet a quarter of our needs.
Currently in the U.S., solar power accounts for much less than one percent of total energy consumed. A few other renewable sources such as wind, geothermal, and hydroelectricity account for only a sliver more of our total clean energy consumption. Despite progress in clean energy solutions, more than 81 percent of the energy needs of the country are still met by climate-damaging non-renewable sources.
Recently, there has been a push to promote solar energy usage, particularly as an alternative to coal. The technology necessary to harness solar power is becoming much cheaper, which is going to make shifting from these dangerous fossil fuels to clean energy alternatives not only smart in terms of the environment, but also our wallets.
Science once again reaches a milestone in technology by modeling it after nature. Researchers have devised a new type of highly efficient photocell by studying photosynthesis in plants.
Nathan Gabor, assistant professor for physics and astronomy at the University of California, Riverside, led research spurred by a simple question as to why plants are green. This eventually led to a quest to mimic plants’ ability to efficiently harvest energy from the Sun regardless of how erratic the sunlight is.
Using his background in physics to solve the biological question, Gabor and his team devised a quantum heat engine photocell capable of regulating the conversion of energy, without the need for external control—it does so by itself, much like a plant does. Their study has been published in the journal Nano Letters.
Quantum heat engines (QHE) are mostly used in refrigerators and “are thermal machines where the working substance is a quantum object,” according to the American Physical Society. The team was able to apply the engine to modulate the energy flow to the cells.
In the process, the team discovered that absorbing green light did not yield any benefits in regulation of energy absorption, which could explain why green plants are so widely seen in nature.
Solar Cells Made Better
The main problem with current solar cells is that about 80 percent of the Sun’s energy is wasted. This is because solar cells have a limited capability to quickly adjust to fluctuations in sunlight—which happens within split seconds. The process required for existing solar cells to handle fluctuations in solar power involves a system of voltage converters and feedback controllers, making it difficult for them to keep up with energy fluctuations and resulting in wasted energy.
As the world makes the shift towards clean energy, a lot of research is being dedicated to finding the easiest, most efficient energy source with the least possible consequences to the environment. Sunlight is one of the most abundant sources there is and the ability to harvest it efficiently would drastically change how our energy needs are met.
Images of India’s Kamuthi Solar Power Project have just been unveiled, giving people across the globe a look at the planet’s largest solar plant. The facility is equipped with 2.5 million individual solar panels across more than 10.36 square kilometers (4 square miles) in Kamuthi in Tamil Nadu, and construction on it was completed in just 8 months.
The plant adds 648 megawatts to the country’s current energy capacity and is capable of powering 150,000 homes. It is a huge step forward in India’s plans to make solar power accessible to more of its citizens. By 2022, the country hopes to produce solar power for 60 million homes — a goal aligned with the government’s vision to generate 40 percent of India’s power from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030.
With this new plant and its continued dedication to sustainable energy, India is expected to become the world’s third-biggest solar market by next year, trailing after China and the United States.
The End of Fossil Fuels
India’s is one of many nationwide initiatives to minimize, if not completely eliminate, the use of fossil fuels.
Chile’s efforts to produce renewable energy have already led to the country creating far more energy than its northern grid needs, driving the country’s energy cost down to nothing. In the same vein, the UK has made a commitment to completely eliminate use of coal by 2025, and in the past six months, they’ve managed to produce more electricity from solar energy than through their traditional coal plants. Meanwhile, Spain is hoping to become a leading country for sustainable energy by setting a goal to generate 100 percent of its power from renewable sources — it’s already able to produce enough energy from wind to power 29 million homes on a daily basis.
These pioneering nations are demonstrating the promise and viability of green energy options. As those options become even more accessible and economically viable, we’re sure to see other countries follow their good example.