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Solar energy is becoming more affordable every day. That’s good news, because we humans can no longer afford the environmental, economic, and social costs of continuing to rely on fossil fuels. When considering whether it’s worth it to invest in solar energy, here are some solar energy facts about how it’s reducing those costs.
Lower Environmental Costs
Back in 2011, it was estimated that if the Mohave Desert were transformed into a solar farm, it would generate twice as much electricity as the U.S. uses in an entire year. We haven’t yet achieved that goal, but in 2013, the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System became the first step toward making that dream a reality.
This solar power plant covers only about five miles of the Mojave Desert and can produce almost 400 megawatts of energy. That’s enough to power 140,000 homes.
In response to concerns regarding the potential impact of the plant on local wildlife and natural resources, in 2012, the federal government created 17 “solar energy zones”. Those 17 zones, located in six states, total approximately 450 square miles that officials believe the environment would be least affected by building a solar farm or power plant.
As we’ve learned from the drastic decline in the bee population due to pollution, the extinction of another species can result in the extinction of our own.
Lower Energy Costs
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the price of electricity has risen every year since 2002. The Solar Energy Industries Association reports that the cost of a solar cell has reached an all-time low of $0.21 per watt. A completely assembled solar module is now $0.39 per watt.
Natural gas, currently the least expensive alternative, costs between $4.2 and $7.8 cents per kWh. One of the reasons for the lower price is the market expansion of solar energy. Of all new electricity production capacity installed in 2016, 39% was solar. In 2010, that figure was just 4%.
Another reason for lower costs is advancements in technology. For example, ground mounted solar is becoming a good option for many people. One of the benefits of ground mounted solar panels is easier access for maintenance. There are also pole mounts that can support multiple solar panels on a single pole.
Pole mounts elevate solar panels high enough to utilize tracking systems which tilt the panels to follow the sun capture the maximum amount of energy possible. Tracking systems can increase solar panel production by over 25%.
Lower Consumer Prices
The switch to solar energy has the potential to lower consumer prices for virtually all goods and services in the marketplace. Lower energy prices mean lower overhead operating costs, and those savings can be passed along to consumers. Some of the biggest companies in the world are taking advantage of solar savings.
Target is the largest corporate buyer of solar energy at 147.5 MW, followed by Walmart at 145.0 MW. Apple purchased 93.9 MW, which is enough solar energy to charge 39 million iPhones for a year. Other corporate customers include IKEA and Costco. The transition to solar power means lower prices on everything from new socks to fine home furnishings.
Lower Food Costs
Currently, China leads the world in solar energy. The International Energy Agency estimates that over 34 gigawatts of solar capacity was added to their grid in 2016 alone. That’s more than double that of U.S. figures for the same year. However, the U.S. is now recognizing the cost-saving advantages of using solar power in food production.
Much of China’s solar development is within the agricultural industry. There are a number of benefits of using solar energy in farming. One of those benefits is the ability to use high-tech farming equipment without being connected to the grid. Since solar power is less expensive than fossil fuel power, those costs savings can be passed along to consumers in the form of lower food prices.
The Solar Jobs Census of 2016 reported a 25% increase in the number of solar workers over the previous year. That translates into 51,000 more jobs within the industry than were available in 2015. The overall number of solar workers in 2016 was estimated at 260,077. That’s three times the number reported in 2010 when the first National Solar Jobs Census was released.
Nationally, the number of solar jobs increased in 44 of 50 states in 2016. You can find out more about the increase in solar jobs in your area by consulting this interactive Solar Jobs Map. The renewable energy industry overall currently employs over 880,000 people.
The Union of Concerned Scientists point to a bleak future if we fail to make the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy. A great example of that successful transition is China’s creation of the world’s largest floating solar farm.
The farm is built on the site of a former coal mining operation. The lake in which it is located was formed by the collapse of surrounding land due to mining, which also rendered the water undrinkable. This project illustrates the potential for replacing destruction with the power of creation.