There’s an old myth about solar energy that it is always “five years away.” No longer. Solar energy is here, and it’s ready to make a big contribution to America’s energy future.
Our latest report, Building a Solar Future, makes the case that solar energy can meet up to 10 percent of our total energy needs by 2030, through the use of a variety of technologies in every aspect of American life.
The report also debunks a few commonly held myths about solar energy. The first is that solar energy is all about panels on houses. In fact, solar energy is available everywhere, and can be used in countless ways to reduce fossil fuel consumption. Our report highlights innovative ways that solar energy is being used to power factories, farms, schools and could even (in the near future) power our cars. My favorite example is a new development of homes that will draw 90 percent of their energy, including heat, from the sun … in Alberta, Canada.
The biggest myth, however, is that solar hasn’t taken root in the U.S. because of cost. There’s a strong recent track record in the U.S. of consumers shelling out extra money for green technologies that reduce consumption of fossil fuels, even if monetary savings are far from assured. One need look no farther than the market for hybrid vehicles, of which more than a million are currently on the road. The difference between hybrids and solar, however, is that buying a hybrid is easy, while installing solar can be a pain in the neck.
The day is soon coming when solar will, in fact, be cost competitive with grid power. The cost of solar photovoltaic panels is plummeting … down approximately 30 percent over the past year. But even if solar becomes cheap, it will still fail to make inroads unless we design smart public policies that make installing a solar panel on a roof as quick, hassle-free and risk-free as hooking up to the grid.
There are many public policies that can move us in that direction, and many of them are highlighted in the report. Solar energy, in all its many forms, has the potential to not only reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and curb global warming pollution, but also to change our relationship with our energy system for the better.
Associate Director and Senior Policy Analyst, Frontier Group
Tony Dutzik is associate director and senior policy analyst with Frontier Group. His research and ideas on climate, energy and transportation policy have helped shape public policy debates across the U.S., and have earned coverage in media outlets from the New York Times to National Public Radio. A former journalist, Tony lives and works in Boston.