The Future of Renewable Energy in America: Why Solar Is the Way to Go
Renewable energy is the key to achieving a net-zero carbon future and combating the climate crisis. Among the various sources of renewable energy, solar is the most abundant, fastest, and cheapest option on Earth. Solar energy has many benefits for the environment, the economy, and society, but it also faces some challenges that need to be overcome. In this blog, we will explore the pros and cons of solar energy and why it is the best choice for America's energy transition.
What Is Solar Energy and How Does It Work?
Solar energy is electrical or thermal energy harvested from sunlight. Solar panels contain photovoltaic (PV) cells made up of semiconductor materials (such as silicon) to absorb elemental particles from the sun called photons. When absorbed by the panel, the photons release electrons from the atoms of the semiconductor material and the flow of these electrons within the cell creates an electric current we can direct to our circuits. Solar panels can be placed anywhere with an abundance of sunlight, such as open fields or rooftops. The more light the panels sit exposed to, the more electricity production potential.
What Are the Benefits of Solar Energy?
Solar energy has many advantages over fossil fuels and other renewable sources. Here are some of them:
- Solar energy is a renewable energy source and reduces carbon emissions. Solar energy is a renewable energy source, meaning you don’t ever use it up. Solar energy is clean. It creates no carbon emissions or other heat-trapping “greenhouse” gases. It avoids the environmental damage associated with mining or drilling for fossil fuels.
- Solar energy reduces your power bill and increases your home value. Solar energy can help you save money on your electricity bill by generating your own power and selling any excess back to the grid. Solar panels can also increase your home value by making it more attractive to buyers who want to save on energy costs and reduce their environmental impact.
- Solar energy promotes energy independence and security. Solar energy can reduce America's dependence on foreign oil and gas, which can be subject to price fluctuations, supply disruptions, and geopolitical conflicts. Solar energy can also enhance national security by diversifying the energy mix and reducing the vulnerability of critical infrastructure to cyberattacks or natural disasters⁴.
- Solar energy creates jobs and benefits the community. Solar energy is one of the fastest-growing industries in America, creating thousands of jobs in installation, manufacturing, maintenance, and research. Solar energy can also benefit local communities by providing clean and affordable electricity to low-income households, schools, hospitals, and businesses.
What Are the Challenges of Solar Energy?
Solar energy is not without its drawbacks, however. Some of the challenges that solar energy faces are:
- Solar energy is intermittent and variable. Solar energy only produces electricity when the sun is shining, which means it depends on weather conditions and time of day. Solar energy also varies in intensity depending on the season and location. This means that solar energy needs to be complemented by other sources of power or by storage systems to ensure reliability and stability.
- Solar energy requires a significant amount of land and materials. Solar panels need a large surface area to capture enough sunlight to generate electricity. This can pose a challenge for densely populated areas or areas with competing land uses. Solar panels also require rare or hazardous materials, such as cadmium or lead, which can have negative impacts on human health and the environment if not properly handled or recycled.
- Solar energy has a high upfront cost and faces policy barriers. Installing solar panels can be expensive for homeowners or businesses who need to pay for equipment, labor, permits, and inspections. Although solar panels pay for themselves over time through savings on electricity bills, some people may not have access to financing options or incentives to make the initial investment. Moreover, solar energy may face policy barriers such as lack of grid access, interconnection rules, net metering policies, or tariffs that can affect its competitiveness or profitability.
Why Is Solar Energy the Best Choice for America?
Despite these challenges, solar energy is still the best choice for America's future energy needs. Solar energy has enormous potential to meet America's growing electricity demand while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and creating economic opportunities. According to projections by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), solar energy will become the leading source of electricity generation by 2030, surpassing natural gas and coal⁹. The EIA also expects that solar energy will account for 42% of total electricity generation by 2050.
To achieve this vision, America needs to invest more in solar technology innovation, infrastructure development, policy support, and public awareness. By doing so, America can reap the benefits of solar energy while overcoming its challenges.