Earth News Journal 31: Solar Energy Beats Fossil Fuels

Despite its critics, solar energy is beginning to surpass fossil fuel energy production in both economics and availability, according to a November article found on Huffington Post.

With fossil fuels being slowly phased out, the global stage has been set for solar energy to make a significant impact on the environment. There are five different reasons current clean-energy scientists are convinced solar is already “beating“ fossil fuels: jobs created, price, capacity, investment rewards, and environmental impacts.

Jobs; The rumor floating around the United States that renewable energy production creates less job opportunities than non-renewable energy production is false, says article author Jacob Sandry. In 2012, “solar added 14,000 new jobs,” while the fossil fuels industry “cut 4,000 jobs.” This 2012 statistic is up 36 percent from the 2010 increase in available jobs through solar energy production. One of the main reasons that solar has opened up the job market is that the industry of renewable energy is more “job-dense than fossil fuels,” employing more Americans in this tough economy.

Price; The initial price of installing commercial solar panels once drove many consumers away from this new technology. Now, the price of solar energy has dropped significantly over the past three decades, spiraling down to just $.75 / watt from the hefty price-tag of $77 / watt. On the other hand, “the cost of coal has risen 13 percent” since 2008. Fossil fuel companies rely heavily on government subsidies to keep their businesses affordable. But there are extra costs of fossil fuel combustion doesn’t account for, endangering the rest of society with these “externalities.” Harvard researchers estimate that “burning coal in the U.S. costs $500 billion in environmental and health damage.” If the cost of coal were at true reflection of the environmental costs as well as the cost of extraction and combustion, “the price of coal would more than double.”

Capacity;  In short, the amount of solar energy facilities are rapidly expanding and the amount of coal power plants are being shut down at a dramatic rate. While the installation rate of solar energy has increased by 50 percent annually for the last five years, “175 coal-fired power plants in the U.S. are expected to be shut down over the next five years (over 10 percent of total capacity).”

Investment; Fossil fuels may have once been a profitable, logical investment when non-renewable energy was the only alternative to kerosene lamps and pedaling bicycles. But now, the value of fossil fuel corporations in stock may be significantly overvalued, according to recent British bank assessments. Already, “the market of cap coal companies has dropped in value of 75 percent over the last five years,” and these markets don’t even account for what’s known as the impending ‘carbon bubble.’ Fossil fuel companies currently on the market are valued based on “their reserves of unburned fossil fuel still in the ground. If international regulations are put in place to prevent atmosphere CO2 from rising above 450 ppm, much of the listed reserves couldn’t be burned for fuel.” Without these hidden, untapped deposits, fossil fuel stocks would plummet, once stricter climate regulations are put in place.

Environmental Impact; Fossil fuels impose drastic impacts on the environment, including acid mine drainage, air pollution that causes acid rain / smog, coal dust (can cause respiratory illness), coal fires that could potentially emit tons of mercury in the air if left unattended, coal combustion (second largest contributor to landfills after solid waste), mountaintop removal (causes flooding, release of greenhouse cases, and ecosystem destruction), and the emission of toxic air pollutants / carbon dioxide. Solar energy has no detrimental environmental impacts – that’s the ingenious of its design.

Reflection

I really enjoyed this article because it laid out a persuasive list of reasons as to why solar energy should be (and may already be) the next energy shift around the world, in the United States especially. By comparing the effects of each energy production method side-by-side under a list of critical topics (price, impact, jobs) made solar energy seem like the obvious choice. But why do so many investors resist the conversion? It’s been proven that our current energy methods are widely wasteful, and we’re not really helping preserve our environment, either. I think one of the main drawbacks to the complete conversion to renewable energy sources is a gripping fear of the future and its many unknowns. We’ve already “established” non-renewable energy sources as our means of transportation, electricity production, and other forms of reliance – we don’t want to change. We’re afraid the conversion will take too much time, too much effort, too much deviation from the path of progress. Many investors view solar energy as a step backward from the barreling speed of “forward pursuit,” but in fact solar energy is going to prevent our society from crashing headlong into the climate block we unknowingly set in our path. We can preserve our society and the history of our planet and its people if we take these constructive acts now. Any additional dawdling puts Mother Earth in even more jeopardy. I’m all for solar energy, and I would love to install solar panels in my own home, some day. 

Sandry, Jacob. “5 Reasons Solar Is Already Beating Fossil Fuels.” Huffington Post. N.p., 5 Nov. 2013. Web. 25 Feb. 2014.

This post also appears on Blogspot