Does the Future of Alternative Energy Lie in Solar Power?

By Elijah Labby Monday, October 26, 2020

From charging a phone to powering lighting, solar energy is quickly becoming a leading alternative energy source in developing nations, according to a recent report from the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The report found that renewable energy across the board is growing, with solar as the primary driver.

Solar’s primary benefit is the universality of light particles, which, once assembled, makes it simple for individuals in developing locations like rural Africa, India, and Latin America to access electricity that helps to drive economic development and growth.

“Solar energy is viable because many developing countries are located in regions where access to the sun’s rays is optimal and are applicable to both homes and villages,” said a recent report from the Borgen Project, a nonprofit working to end global poverty. “Solar power can also help countries gain energy independence, meaning countries can reduce or eliminate dependence on energy imports.”

The growth of usage is largely driven by a decrease in electricity generation costs, which have decreased from $300 per megawatt-hour about a decade ago to less than $55 today. By comparison, the cost per megawatt-hour of coal ranges from $55 to $150, about where the price has been for the last decade.

Brent Wanner of the IEA’s World Energy Outlook credits legislative advances for the cost decreases.

“It does seem that the policy support is here to stay which is a very good thing,” he said. “These policy frameworks are really essential to underpinning those low costs, which then underpin the kind of growth we need to move towards climate ambitions.”

Solar Energy in the United States

The solar industry has also continued to skyrocket in the United States. According to Forbes, the US solar industry employs over 240,000 people, growing 20% from 2012 to 2015 and adding $84 billion to the United States’ gross domestic product in 2016.

The states leading the charge in solar technology span the nation. From western states like California, Utah, Nevada, and Arizona, to East Coast states like North Carolina, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, the market for solar in the United States is growing rapidly.

California, for example, is the nation’s leader in solar energy. Across its population of almost 40 million people, the solar industry employs about 74,000 of them, work that provides enough electricity to power almost 8 million homes.

Progressive alternative energy adoption policies have driven most of this growth. In California, all new homes are required to have solar power. Investment tax credits on solar are also available in the state, incentivizing the adoption of solar technologies.

Likewise, New Jersey has implemented a 26% solar tax credit that will decrease to 22% in 2021.

In 2009, PPL Energy said New Jersey was an emerging location for solar power.

"Combining the advantages of competitive markets with extended federal incentives for projects that support renewable energy and energy sustainability, that's a winning formula," said Gene Alessandrini, senior vice president-marketing for PPL EnergyPlus. "It's good business for PPL because it builds our renewable energy portfolio and advances the production of renewable, green energy."

The Worst States for Solar

According to the Solar Tribune, the worst states for solar are often so because they rely so heavily on fossil fuels. States like Alaska, Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas all fit this description.

However, while state leaders may not necessarily have implemented economic incentives for the adoption of solar, some city leaders have.

While Texas provides as much as 43% of the nation’s crude oil, the city of Dallas provides a 100% property tax exemption on residents’ solar panel systems.

Cris Eugster, chief operating officer at CPS Energy in Texas, told My San Antonio that Texas has huge potential for solar energy adoption.

“We were one of the first in solar in a big, big way in Texas. Our 400 megawatt (request for proposals) around 2012 was really a landmark at the time,” he said. “Solar is a great resource here in Texas. It produces power during those July and August afternoons when our customers need it and when our load is at its highest. Solar is very well-aligned and correlated to our load.”

About the Author

Headshot for author Elijah Labby

Elijah Labby is a graduate of the National Journalism Center. He has previously written for Broadband Breakfast, a technology and internet policy website.

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