Category Archives for "Opinion"

Solar Energy: Bridging the Party Gap


As we’re getting closer to Election Day, it’s a good time to reflect. We see democrats and republicans (or at least two specific democrats and republicans…) seemingly at each other’s throats – name calling, bad mouthing, and generally being poor sports. At a time like this, when the political situation is somewhat dire and it looks like these two sides will never be able to agree on anything, there’s one topic that republicans and democrats, at least in the general public, agree widely on – solar energy!

Numerous polls have found that regardless of political leanings, all Americans simply love solar energy and want to see it expanded in the future. Polls in 2012, 2014 and now a recent Pew Research Poll in 2016 continue to have the same results – that people just love solar.Continue reading

3 Reasons the Solar Powered Car is The Next Big Thing

The solar powered car could be the future. Adopting a solar electric lifestyle makes sense on many levels – including boosting your cash flow and becoming independent from volatile gas prices.

You may have heard that solar energy and electric cars are a match made in heaven. With his announcement of the SolarCity and Tesla Motors merger, Elon Musk has made it clear that the solar powered car is to solar power what peanut butter is to jam.

In fact, if you’ve already covered your roof with solar panels, you may have started thinking about buying an electric car (also known a plug-in electric vehicle). And here’s why your intuitions serve you right.

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Solar Panels For Sale: A Third-World Perspective

If you live in a developed country, installing solar panels on your rooftop involves selecting a solar power company from a growing list of providers and setting up an appointment.

But this is far from the case for third-world countries.

Even if you’re only researching the theoretical principles of solar energy, it’s hard not to come across an ad shouting Solar Panels for Sale! when scouring the Internet, along with statistics and facts on how much solar energy can save you in the long run.

For instance, pulling up directories that list solar companies in each U.S. state is as easy as saying 1-2-3. Americans are offered tax reduction incentives, on top of getting closer to their goal of saving money and slashing their electricity bills.

To boot, even the environmentally conscious individual can feel good about purchasing and installing solar panels, knowing he is contributing, even minimally, to the reduction of carbon dioxide emission into the atmosphere.

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Net Metering: A Comprehensive Guide

net metering

Net metering is the policy that enables a homeowner to be credited by their utility when they generate more electricity from a solar array than they use.

You would think that those who go solar would be celebrated as heroes – because if everyone who could go solar did go solar, we’d all have a lot better shot at a livable climate. But instead, a nasty campaign of rumor-mongering is trying to take these true heroes down.

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Top Residential Solar Installers (with Most Megawatts Installed)


What are the top residential solar installers in the US?

As someone who has always embraced change, I have been fascinated with the idea of anything new. I am usually the first in my circle to buy new technologies and while some things didn’t work out so well (remember the fizzle of the Laserdisc?), for the most part I’ve been ahead of the pack.

That is except for solar power.
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Solar Uses More Energy to Manufacture than it Produces?

solar manufacture

What nonsense. This is, as my Great Aunt Ro would put it, “simply arrant drivel.”

Let’s go through the process. Look around you. Everything you see is manufactured somewhere. All manufacturing takes energy.

All manufactured things that are used to make energy, take energy to make. Even what’s needed to burn coal takes energy:

The massive turbines that use the steam by boiling water by burning coal, and turn that into electricity take energy to make. Like all manufactured objects, solar panels are manufactured. Do they take more energy?

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Elon Musk Joins Calls For Global Carbon Tax


As the climate negotiations continue in Paris, Tesla and SpaceX entrepreneur Elon Musk has joined a chorus of calls for a carbon tax.

Musk is not alone. The climate scientist Jim Hansen also believes that a global carbon tax is the most effective policy driver of a clean energy economy.

The idea is that only a carbon tax will accelerate the move to a clean powered economy. Similar to the tax on cigarettes but not on fruits and vegetables, this would be a revenue-neutral tax; ie, taxes would be lowered elsewhere in the economy so that government treasuries would receive the same as they do now.

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Cooling the Climate with Giant Seaweed Farming


Australian climate scientist Tim Flannery suggests we could cool the climate with massive seaweed farms to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

Geo-engineering is generally considered the last ditch attempt at preventing climate destabilization, one that could create as serious a problem as it solves.

But one climate scientist has detailed some environmentally safe geo-engineering technologies that could be adopted together with the more traditional way of reducing climate change (such as going solar, and voting into power only governments that support going solar).

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Does Solar take More Space than Coal?

golf course

Renewable energy naysayers often raise the objection that renewables – like big solar projects in the deserts and gigantic wind farms on the prairies – just take up too much space and so we shouldn’t have them.

Instead, we should stick to their preferred default for our energy supply – fossil fuels.

In fact, renewable energy takes up less space than even the golf courses that fossil fuel executives love to be pampered on while raking in their billions from carbon combustion.

In a study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT),  Future of Solar Energy the authors estimated how much land it would take to power 100% of the US entirely with big solar projects.

To supply 100% of the entire nation’s electricity needs in 2050 with solar, it would take 12,741 square miles. That sounds like a lot! But if the solar were concentrated in the sunniest part of the US where it would make the most sense and be the most efficient – like the deserts of the southwest – then the land use drops to just 4,633 square miles.

Compared to many other things we use land for in the US, including housing us in cities, growing our fruits and veggies from farmland, making all of our electricity from solar on 4,633 square miles is actually not very much land at all. Farms alone span a much greater 700,000 square miles in the US.

A coal mine compared to Ivanpah lets you compare the size of a coal mine to a solar farm. Ivanpah, one of the largest US solar farms is greyed out under the red on the right. Even that huge solar farm is dwarfed by a coal mine in the Powder River Basin. Which won’t even last 30 years – many coal mines are depleted in 12 years.

Even just golf courses; hardly something we all need — unlike homes, and fruits, and veggies, and electricity. Yet just today’s golf courses use nearly as much land as the amount we’d need to power the nation entirely from solar by 2050.

Apparently, we devote about 3,861 square miles of land just to golf courses!

But why would we want to power 100% of our future need with just solar? Most experts agree that we will wind up supplying somewhere between a quarter  and a half of our future power from solar. Splitting that difference and estimating solar needs if we went one-third solar, they come up with around 2,702 square miles for solar.

After all – we have wind in abundance too.

wind farm

According to one study, powering another third of the US on wind energy could take a land area spanning on the order of 23,000 square miles of wind farms.

The MIT study concedes that that is a lot of land, but only twice what we’ve already devastated with coal mining, including mountain top removal. Unlike coal mines, wind farms are safe and healthy places for farming underneath, and are often combined with farms, as in Iowa and Texas.

So really, a wind farm only takes out of use the land needed for wind turbine pads and new access roads for workers to drive to maintain the turbines. That is only about 1% of the average wind farm.  So, 1% of 23,000 square miles is just 230 square miles for one third of our electricity in 2050 from wind power.

Coal uses most

How about coal? Sure, harvesting sunlight takes up land space, but chopping down mountains to harvest the energy from coal actually really uses up even more, because that land is gone for good. And that’s not even counting the average coal power plant size needed to burn all that coal. That’s usually about another square mile each.

Unlike solar and wind farms that don’t use up all the available solar and wind in each solar farm or wind farm, and have to move on to mine more sunlight and breezes elsewhere, coal mines do.

Coal mines must constantly move on once they exhaust each mined area, often in just two to twelve years, and each mined region produces relatively little electricity.

So here we have to compare GWhs generated per acre of harvested land over a period of time of harvesting, whether that is harvesting sunlight or coal.

And here, solar and wind are clear winners, according to Sourcewatch.

Coal will produce 15 GWh per mined acre over 60 years, while the average solar farm will produce 18 GWhs of power per acre, over the same 60 years. Because solar doesn’t have to move on, to harvest sunlight in the space next door the way a coal mine must, because mining depletes all the potential energy from each acre of land as it scoops up its coal.

So, looked at energy generation over time, the land footprint of coal is at least 20% bigger than that of solar.

And that is with solar at its current efficiency. And we know that solar is getting more efficient over time. The more efficient solar becomes, the less space it needs to generate each kilowatt. So a future calculation will be even more favorable to sunshine.

Image credits: via FlickR under CC license