I planned this post a few days ago, but in the interim two things have happened which will heighten its relevance. First, our fellow humans in Beijing are having a hard time breathing, much less seeing the sun. When George Harrison of The Beatles first wrote this song, his intent was some variation of the sun will come up tomorrow and everything will be alright. He most likely did not envision the needed utility from the sun to help power our planet without damning us to a tougher life in a toxic environment. Second, my friend Amaya republished an article from The Grist on her excellent blog www.thebrabblerabble.wordpress.com called “The 32 Most Alarming Charts from the Government Climate Change Report.” Please check out this post and its charts.
To remedy our climate change dilemma which is progressing at a rate worse than expected, we must move in a concerted manner away from fossil fuel energy sources and to alternative energy sources. And, for those who tout all the jobs in the fossil fuel industry, I keep reading about the vast number of jobs created by those in the alternative energy field which is growing, but needs to pick up the pace with greater funding. Yet, the fossil fuel industry has done an excellent job of discrediting the alternative energy approaches that the successes are still somewhat of a mystery to many. The two greatest sources of alternative energy are wind and solar energy, but they are only two of several. I have spoken about both and will save wind energy for another day, but I would like to highlight a few solar energy success stories that would do justice to George’s song.
Last week, it was announced that the state of California has reached 1 Gigawatt (1,000 megawatts) of electricity from solar energy. That exceeds the level of solar energy produced by any of the other 49 states and is a level few countries have achieved. It is the equivalent of the electricity produced by two conventional power plants. It is part of the California Million Solar Roofs Initiative which has $33 Billion worth of incentives. Per a spokesperson, “The costs are going down as we hoped and the market is getting closer to self-sufficiency.” This last quote is important as many have believed the market must continue to be propped up, but the technology continues to improve and is three times more efficient today than it was a few years ago and further improvements are possible.
To this point, in an earlier post I referenced a Durham, North Carolina company called Semprius, who is a joint venture funded by the Department of Defense, Siemens and Pratt Whitney Rocketdyne (PWR). Semprius has the state of the art photovoltaic solar panel that can convert 33.9% of the sun’s energy to electricity. Before the rate of conversion was around 24% at best. That is almost a 42% rate of improvement. The DOD has sanctioned the Sempruis technology to be deployed at Edwards Air Force Base to produce 200 kilowatts of electricity. This solar panel system can power about 40 homes. A spokesperson said, “Having spent several years evaluating emerging photovoltaic technology, we have selected Semprius because of the potential of the technology to drive down costs of solar electricity significantly.”
Finally, Duke Energy, the largest US energy utility, has developed a 12.5 megawatt solar project in Beaufort County’s Washington White Post Solar Farm. This project can power 3,000 homes and involves several NC companies such as SunEnergy1, Deatwyler Clean Energy, Bosch Solar Energy and Sustainable Community Development Company. I mention these companies not with the purpose to name drop, but to illustrate there are viable enterprises that employ solar technicians, construction managers, solar thermal installers, software developers, etc. to develop and maintain alternative energy.,
The beauty of the solar energy industry is not just the clean source of energy. It is also in its elegance – most of these projects are small in nature. They need not be large-scale. Yet, development is going on around the globe and in the US which will do large-scale solar energy projects. This solar technology when partnered with wind and other forms of alternative energy and conservation measures such as the miles per gallon car standards, will be the much needed wave to address our global warming crisis.
In the US, we need a long term strategy that will accelerate the decline in fossil fuel energy and let us move forward into more alternative energy. Solar energy is a key part of this strategy. George Harrison is no longer with us, but given his bent for the pursuit of a simpler world, he would be singing “Here Comes the Sun” with new meaning.