Infinite: We are a capable species. There is about 5,000 times more solar energy, measured by NASA’s SORCE satellite, that arrives at the Earth’s surface, than mankind uses in a year. Don’t be limited by what sunlight lands just on our planet though. If we were properly exploiting space, we could park a huge productive solar array anywhere around the Sun to capture more energy without any impact from nighttime or clouds. On the other hand, fossil fuels are subject to extraction from depleting reserves.
Emissions Free: Solar power equipment often needs fossil fuels to make it and so there is a phase of time called emissions payback, where the machinery provides an equivalent amount of energy as was used up in its manufacture, just a short period of time. Also, since there is more and more renewable energy as part of our generating capacity, there is more likelihood that the equipment is increasingly being made by emissions free energy in the first place. Same applies for wind turbines.
Geopolitically Almost Neutral: All countries have different access to energy sources. Renewable energy is no different. As an Englishman, standing in a field on a cold, overcast rainy still day it would be easy to believe that renewable energy was all bunk, but solar power gets everywhere and in the places with more cloud there is often more wind. Geothermal is often in places with less sunshine and the ocean shoreline is almost everywhere. Fossil fuels are distinctly and unfairly distributed. Renewable energy is much much more equitably distributed and available to all.
Pollution Free: There are no products of combustion with sunlight.
No Climate Impact: Sunlight of course is one of the big climate inputs. The Earth’s surface captures about a 2 billionth part of the sun’s energy output, and some is reflected back into space (Earth’s Albedo) and some is retained in the atmosphere, mainly due to the effect of carbon dioxide in retaining the long wave infra red radiation that comes from Sun warmed objects on the Earth’s surface. CO2 is responsible for our having warmth sufficient for life in the first place. Any more of it and we’d overheat like Venus. Any less and we’d be frozen. Currently we are releasing large amounts of fossil fuel carbon and its tipping this long term , millions of years balance, increasing CO2 and causing warming. The sun itself is currently in a slowly reducing phase of its cycle and so any idea that global warming is caused by the Sun is destroyed by the fact that the SORCE satellite data show there is less energy arriving from the Sun in recent decades.
No Price Volatility: In recent years, the oil price has impacted the economy. Drivers remember $4.00 per gallon gasoline in the US and high oil prices. Today those prices have dropped considerably. This volatility of prices is associated with a relative unpredictability as well due to the different inputs on the oil price, one of which is geopolitics and another is technology (shale oil transformed US production). Leeb wrote a book showing that almost all increases in the oil price were associated with recessions in the US economy. With renewable energy there is no commodity price. No ton of solar or barrel of wind. Logistics are easy. No feedstock supply agreements. A growing renewable energy economy will not have a rising oil commodity price helping to stifle further economic growth.
Not an Issue if you Waste it: Today if a climate guru gets on a plane he’s assassinated in the press by the deniers. Many of us have an answer to polluting aircraft fuels and are working hard to bring them to market. The point being here that when its fossil fuel, we’ve been habituated anyway to wasteful practices in its use. Being finite this is all the more serious. Also the industrial use for oil is far more profitable than fuel or energy. With renewable energy, you simply wait to recharge batteries or produce more biofuel and there is no associated shame in driving a big powerful SUV if it has an electric motor.
No Negative Health Impact: Solar power is not emitting dangerous chemicals, and although workers do fall off roofs, its impact on human welfare is minimal compared to coal, which worldwide, kills millions annually and of course coal mining is an acknowledged dangerous activity, both for the employee as well as for the environment.
Doesn’t have as many Subsidies: Early in the age of coal, most economies built in subsidies for this form of energy and for oil into their tax codes. Today these coded tax programs are almost impossible, without a revolution, to extract. This gives fossil fuels billions of extra dollars. Despite this, renewable energy capacity has reached 10% of the planets capacity already and is accelerating. Even with lower subsidies, it is now becoming mainstream and many nations mandate its adoption. There is a phenomenon called “Grid Parity” where solar or renewable energy in general, has a lower cost today than fossil fuel energy in some locations. This geography is mainly big cities, some countries and islands currently, but it is rapidly growing as the cost of solar equipment continues to tumble. To be on a level playing field, compensatory subsidies ought to be made available to accelerate our transition to renewable energy such as solar power as quickly as possible.
Is Distributed Generation (DG): Normally a central power station will have an efficiency burning its fuel of about max 45% if it has some efficiency enhancements. Then the power is transmitted tens of miles through transmission wires, which heat up with the passing current and lose another 10% – 20% depending on the distance of transmission. This means very little of the final energy value of the coal or oil gets to be actually used. Even though Solar power is only using 20% of the sun’s energy using current technology, its not experiencing any line losses because if its on your roof you can use it immediately. Also, since its Direct Current (DC) when its made, you can use it without changing it it to Alternating Current (AC) for motors, lights and many other appliances around the house.
Solar power, like wind does have one big disadvantage however. It is intermittent. Clouds and night time interrupt it and you can’t store electricity very well yet. This is something that is rapidly changing. The attractions of a world where electricity can be effectively and cheaply stored will transform solar, which is a highly convenient way to accumulate enough power to run your transportation as well as your house.
The fact is that solar is complemented by wind and a range of other renewable energy capacities such as efficiency, combined heat and power, waste to energy, anaerobic digestion, biomass to energy, goethermal and hydro energy. All of these present an effective portfolio of carbon neutral or clean power sources that can generate 24/7 power for any community in the world, increasingly at a lower cost and without any of the expensive externalities mentioned above.
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