Will Solar Energy Replace Traditional Electricity Generation?
- Jun 28, 2017
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Coal, long-considered the bellwether of American electricity generation, seems to be on its way out. In its place, renewable energy sources such as solar are entering the national spotlight.
Growth in the solar energy industry has consistently outpaced the overall growth of the American economy. This points to the possibility that, in the near future, solar power will dominate American energy infrastructure.
Will Renewable Energy Take Over?
Renewable energy will replace coal as America’s primary energy source eventually. The combination of environmental and economic advantages that renewable energy offers make it increasingly attractive for investors.
When a coal mine runs out of coal, for instance, it has to shutter its operation and move to a new source. This is an expensive and time-consuming operation that solar energy providers conveniently sidestep.
The overall price of solar energy of energy also continues to drop on an annual basis thanks to new advances in solar technology.
Economic Obstacles to Solar Power
These economic factors will drive solar industry growth beyond its current levels for as long as they provide greater incentive than coal, oil, and gas power. Of these three strongholds of fossil fuel energy, oil will provide the greatest challenge. This is both due to the wealth of the oil industry and its power through political lobbying.
Natural gas will also remain relevant for the foreseeable future, and has indeed already replaced a significant amount of lost coal production since the 1980s. Oil is well-established and will likely remain so until solar energy finally presents an inarguable advantage.
In order for solar energy to actually replace these old standbys, it will have to benefit from extraordinary levels of public and private investment. ScienceDaily explains that fully replacing only coal production in the United States, American solar energy infrastructure would have to increase production by a factor of 33 – from 22.7 gigawatts to 755 gigawatts of energy production.
Investment on this scale would mean about $1.5 trillion – more than is to be expected from all but the most optimistic projections – but it would be a profitable investment.
A 100% solar energy infrastructure is not feasible, however, since it relies entirely on local weather conditions at energy generation sites. A 100% renewable energy infrastructure would have to combine multiple sources of energy on a large-scale degree to produce reliable results.
Environmental Advantages to Solar
Solar energy offers immediate and obvious environmental advantages to Americans. The World Health Organization estimates that 7 million people die as a result of pollution-related illnesses every year. Of these, 2.6 million are reportedly due to outdoor air pollution of the type produced by the large oil and coal refineries upon which the fossil fuel energy industry relies.
Replacing coal with solar energy can help curb a great number of these illnesses. However, the environmental benefits of solar power are well-known to the public. Energy investors are waiting for the moment when they can justify prioritizing the solar energy industry over their existing positions in fossil fuel – and the promise of solar energy profits are the key to that happening.