Renewable resources are a hot-button issue. It is estimated that by 2030 — only 15 years from now — there will be more than 12 million jobs in the renewable energy job sector. People are adapting to new ideas and renewable energy sources are becoming an increasingly popular topic.
The Business of Energy
America currently obtains most of its energy from fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas and crude oil. This has led to national problems like the country’s dependency on fossil fuels, climate change and more.
Despite the problems with fossil fuels, America has been reluctant to make the jump to renewable forms of energy. United States oil production peaked in 1971, but instead of moving towards renewables, natural gas is quickly on the rise.
While natural gas may be cleaner than coal and oil, it should only be seen as a bridge to something better. Natural gas can pollute water, destroy natural habitats and still contributes to carbon emissions.
On the other end of the bridge are the renewables like solar that can over time be a greater investment for the environment and the future. Renewables have minimal environmental impacts, do not deplete natural resources and produce zero or few greenhouse gas emissions. Renewable energy also opens up job opportunities. Solar industry employment grew by 20 percent between 2012 and 2013 and employment is expected to continue growing over the next year.
As wonderful as renewable energy sounds, there are many barriers preventing progress. Most well known is the price. Renewable energy such as solar can be expensive due to utility rate structure, problematic due to a lack of uniform procedures and technical requirements for connecting to the electric utility’s grid, and geographic limitations like living in a shady area, which would make certain options such as solar energy ineffective.
These are big obstacles, but they seem small in the face of the promise of a cleaner planet. Globally implementing a mixture of renewable energy based on your geographical location answers the question of how to reach a future of sustainable energy. You have to ask yourself the economic question: how much money can solar, wind or geothermal energy save you and our country?
The raw facts are always the most astounding to me; like that 82.8 million barrels of oil are consumed each day, or that one wind turbine can produce enough energy to power 300 homes, and that each day the sun creates enough energy to power the world for an entire year.
That last fact really stuck with me. If the sun creates that much energy, why aren't we investing in ways to harness more of it? While researching solar energy, I consistently was surprised by the power and apparent affordability.
In order to harness the energy from the sun and turn it into electricity, it is necessary to have solar cells to collect and transform solar energy into useable electricity. To power the entire world for a year, we would need to fill just 25,000 square miles of our planet with solar panels. This area is only slightly larger than the state of West Virginia, and can power the entire planet.
Just to put the sun power into perspective, the amount of power that reaches the Earth in one day is valued at $625 trillion dollars! That’s enough money to buy Google, Microsoft, Apple and Facebook 686 times over. Meanwhile the amount of energy that reaches the Earth in one year is valued at $228 quadrillion dollars – enough money to pay the U.S. national debt 16,294 times. Yet putting a solar panel on your home isn’t nearly as expensive as I expected it to be.
Solar panels are expensive initially, but your return on investment is quick. Hybrid cars start at around $25,000 and the return on investment is 6.5 years. Those high efficiency washing machines that you probably already have in your home will take 5 years to return your investment and home solar panels are right there with them. The return on home solar electricity is only six years, and is even shorter in places with government incentives. States like New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania have incentive programs (SREC) that make the payback rate drop to 4 years.
This left me wondering why more people don't have solar panels on their home, immediately thinking of my parents who live in Pennsylvania I realized that it is something they have never actually looked into or heard about doing. Solar panels don't really “sound” affordable and large start up costs without federal incentives would be hard for most people to justify, yet 92 percent of people in the U.S. feel the government should implement solar power programs.
A one Kilowatt home solar panel could prevent 170 pounds of coal from being burned and 300 pounds of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere. Most home solar systems are between 3 and 7 kilowatts. Solar energy isn’t affordable and effective for every house but everyone should be learning about the options that solar energy has to offer on both large and small scale projects. Whether it’s to save the environment, or just save money, we should be looking into solar resources as we move toward the future.
The Natural Gas Boom
Over the past decade, natural gas has been booming in America and is expected to continue its energy dominance in the years to come. Check out the full story on Natural Gas.
The Sun Rises Slowly
Renewable energy is slowly rising in America with solar increasing from 2012 on. Get the full story on solar and other renewables from the Energy Information Administration.