One of the only critiques against clean energy alternatives to fossil fuels is cost. Reducing costs for producing and distributing clean energy is the last major hurdle for the renewable energy sector. It cannot be done with expensive publicity stunts and superficial investments to improve brand images but yield few results. Clean energy improvements need to provide tangible results or else there will always be opposition pushing for cheaper, but more harmful, alternatives.
A new local option coming to WNY is the SolarLease through Solar City. The Solar provider hopes to make not only make solar energy accessible for residential use, but also more efficient than traditional energy. By offering a lease, they eliminate expensive initial payments. This benefits the users who not only help the planet, but save money. Tesla CEO and Solar City owner Elon Musk has also helped innovate the solar market by introducing solar shingles, replacing traditional roofing while providing energy to homes. It’s this sort of innovation that can help propel solar energy into more widespread use.
While accessibility is an important fight, the production price has long been an Achilles heel for solar energy. Silicon panels are expensive to make and while users eventually save money it can take a long time to reach that point. There has been some progress in reducing the cost of solar panels. A California based solar company called Solarflare claims to be the first company to mass produce affordable copper gallium selenide solar panels.
Since the early 2000s the cost of solar energy has been more than halved and efficiency has grown. This is why overall use of solar panels has grown so rapidly in such a short amount of time. “In 2012 there were 3.5 million megawatthours of electricity generated by solar photovoltaic panels. In 2013 that more than doubled to 8.3 million Mwh. And to think that a decade ago the U.S. generated just 6,000 Mwh from solar PV.” The price only pennies away from coal. But at the moment it just does not have the infrastructure in place to accept the burden of the country’s energy needs.
While there would be a jobs benefit to expanding solar energy, government in the past has felt it more important to protect the already existing jobs. Some of their points valid, like the possibly rough transition of labor needing to learn new skills, but they still ignored the advantages, like self-sustainability, being a global leader in clean energy and not relying on outside resources.
It does not matter if it happens after our lifetime, fossil fuels are a finite resource and is damaging the planet. We owe it to future generations to continue innovating clean energy so they actually have a future. Why focus on solar energy? Perhaps Thomas Edison says it best:
We are like tenant farmers, chopping down the fence around our house for fuel, when we should be using nature’s inexhaustible sources of energy—sun, wind, and tide. I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait till oil and coal run out before we tackle that. I wish I had more years left!
-Thomas Edison in a conversation with Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone
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