Powering America with Solar and Wind Energy

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The Rise of Solar Energy

The concept of obtaining energy from the sun originated in 1876 when researchers William Grylls Adams and Richard Day discovered that selenium, when exposed to light, can produce electricity1. This discovery has inspired countless scientists to investigate the potential real world applications of solar energy as a reliable and renewable source of electricity that completely eliminates the threat of global warming, harmful emissions and rising fuel costs for all consumers.

Today, solar energy can be utilized in the form of photovoltaic (PV) or thermal technology.

Between 2008 and 2013 in the United States alone, a rapid increase of approximately 50% of residential, commercial and institutional installations of rooftop solar panels took place. As this trend to “solarize” the country continues, the overall price of solar PVs has significantly lowered from about $8.82 USD per watt in 2008, to current costs of just $3.14 a watt2, which is a drastic reduction of over 60% in just 10 years.

By 2020, researchers estimate that the cost of solar panels will be as low as $1.00/watt. With over 2,000 different facilities of major U.S. corporations utilizing solar technology to power their production processes, over 1.1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are avoided each year – a number that is only expected to rise as major corporations continue to invest in this reliable energy alternative.

In addition to saving millions of dollars in energy costs each year, the rise of solar energy in the United States has also been particularly beneficial for the economy. In fact, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) has recently published that over 250,000 workers currently work in the American solar industry – a workforce that is estimated to increase by 331,000 by 20263.

The Largest Wind Energy Producer

According to a report by the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) and the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the United States is currently the world’s largest wind energy producer in the world. With a total installed wind capacity of 84,044 megawatts (MW), it is estimated that this wind capacity is equivalent to powering 25 million American households each year4. In fact, by 2050, the U.S. Department of Energy expects that the wind capacity over the country will reach 404 gigawats (400,000 MW).

The most productive states, in terms of installed wind power capacity, include Texas at 22,637 MW, Oklahoma at 7,495 MW, Iowa at 4,308 and California at 5,609, along with several other states that are following suit5. The variance in total wind capacity that exists between some of the aforementioned states in the Midwest and West Coast as compared to other areas of the U.S. is primarily attributed to the differences in the intensity of the resource of this energy source.

As wind power is directly related to the wind speed, areas of the Southeastern parts of the U.S. often acquire much less wind energy.

In an effort to allow wind energy to be a more universal source of energy throughout the U.S., renewable portfolio standards (RPS), which is a federal regulation that requires a minimum amount of electricity throughout the country to be derived from renewable sources such as solar, geothermal, hydroelectric and wind plants, are promoting the installation of wind energy plants in other areas of the U.S. States.

Since windier states have higher capacity factors from their wind turbine energy generation, they are able to sell their electricity to other states with limited wind resources. For example, a public utility service in Georgia known as Georgia Power buys their wind energy from Oklahoma through a contract initiative that is estimated to provide the state with 1,600 MW of renewable energy by 20215.

References

  1. “The History of Solar Power” – Experience.com
  2. “How solar panel cost and efficiency have changed over time” – Energy Sage
  3. “Solar Industry Research Data” – Solar Energy Industries Association
  4. “Wind Energy Facts at a Glance” – American Wind Energy Association
  5. “4 maps that show who’s being left behind in America’s wind-power boom” – Vox

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