The State of Solar Energy
Solar PV (photovoltaic) electricity is rapidly becoming a more affordable option for buildings’ and communities’ clean energy needs. Scalable in that it can be used anywhere from small houses to large-scale power plants, solar PV now employs over 100,000 Americans, more than the coal industry. In fact, solar power creates the most jobs per megawatt of any energy source – just one more reason solar is good for the economy.
According to Environment Minnesota, the price of solar panels has dropped dramatically over the last 3 years, 50-75%, and enormous potential for solar currently exists. In the US, solar provides only 1/10 of one percent of all energy consumed.
While most of us in the states are still powered by fossil fuels, countries with less solar potential than ourselves, such as Germany, are leading the clean energy revolution. Germany accounts for over 50% of all installed solar worldwide due to government subsidies for clean energy.
Considering that $409 billion is spent annually worldwide to subsidize fossil fuels, compared with $66 billion
for renewable energy subsidies, simple policy changes can have a tremendous impact. Dr. Alf Bjorseth, Chairman of Scatec, one of the world’s leading renewable energy companies, states “Solar PV is in transition from a niche technology to a mainstream source of power.” With 1.3 billion global citizens having no access to electricity, both decentralized and grid-tied solar PV systems will continue to light up previously dark rural villages each year, improving quality of life, economic productivity, and educational opportunities.
By 2015, solar PV will reach a key milestone; it will be priced competitive with other energy sources including nuclear and coal. While solar is an intermittent energy source, new research in energy storage promises a bright future for everyday (and night) use of solar power. Dr. Janie Davidson at the University of Minnesota believes that buildings in Minnesota can not only be powered by solar PV, but they can utilize solar thermal for water heating, and eventually, space heating and cooling. New technologies for storage may have the potential to store solar thermal energy long-term, offsetting winter heating demand. Dr. Davidson’s team at the U of M demonstrates these principles in their Solar Decathlon house, which was awarded the first place prize for engineering.
Contrary to popular belief, Minnesota has higher potential for solar thermal than all of the east coast and much of the US, aside from southwestern states. But what’s the most important thing to remember about solar? As a billboard in Albany, New York says: “When there’s a huge solar energy spill, it’s called a nice day.”
The Cornerstone Group plans to incorporate solar PV systems into upcoming projects, including the Lyndale Garden Center redevelopment.