Less energy: Is the tipping point for solar coming?
I confess to being a solar geek. Starting with working at the North Carolina Solar Center and organizing solar home tours for the NC Solar Energy Association (now the NC Sustainable Energy Association), I have been interested in solar for most of my working life. Passive solar has always been a “no-brainer” in my opinion in terms of designing to take advantage of solar heat, but the economics of photovoltaic (solar electric) systems has historically been a challenge.
But recent articles herald the news from studies in China that solar PV may be as cheap as coal by 2015. Of course, this depends on the rate of technological advances continuing, which further depends on continuing to invest in solar research. (Here’s a good reason to support government investment in renewable energy technologies!) Significantly cheaper PV technology would certainly be a game changer.
However, there are many reasons to invest in solar PV now that are not just about return on investment. I think it is interesting to think about how we make spending and investment decisions. They really are not always based solely on what makes the most financial sense. I am particularly drawn to the idea of an investment that is better for the planet, allows me to take control of my own power needs, that is more resistant to future energy price spikes, and protects against power outages. A couple of recent articles about reasons to go solar: “Ruminations on ROI and Solar PV” and “5 Reasons Why Going Solar is About More Than Just Money”.
As I write this I can look out at a beautiful sunny Seattle day. This would be a great day for harvesting solar energy, but it is important to note that solar PV works on cloudy days too, although not quite as well. However, because of our long days during the summer, the average power generated by solar PV in Seattle is comparable to other areas of the country that seem sunnier. Germany is a world leader in solar PV use, and they have a similar climate to the Pacific Northwest.
For now, I’m going to dream of a bright future where solar becomes cost competitive and rapidly replaces fossil fuels for power generation. How is that for “looking on the sunny side”?