Green America: Growing the Green Economy for People and the Planet

Climate & Energy

Economic action to stop global warming

Solar Power

Solar PV Panels: A High-Growth Market

The sun is the cleanest, most abundant, self-renewing energy source we have, enabling all other sources of energy on this planet. Even we were to achieve achieve all possible energy-efficiency gains and take full advantage of other renewable energy sources, such as wind and geothermal, we'll still need some other way to generate at least 30 percent of our power. We can not achieve a renewable energy economy without solar power.

Types

Solar energy can be converted directly or indirectly into heat or electricity for a number of uses. It is used for light, to generate electricity, for space and water heating, and for drying. The major solar technologies are "concentrating solar power systems, passive solar heating and daylighting, photovoltaic (PV) systems, solar hot water, and solar process heat and space heating and cooling" [NREL]. Learn about the basics of solar power from the US Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Benefits

  • Solar power is one of the few safe, emissions-free sources of energy. It will help stop global warming and all its terrible consequences.
  • Installing PVs and generating your own electricity at home or the office will cut your energy costs tremendously.
  • Solar will create non-outsourceable jobs because it must go up on the rooftops of our communities.
  • Since sunlight is available everywhere on the Earth's surface, it can bring heat and electricity to even the smallest rural villages in developing nations, and meeting basic energy needs provides a first step out for those in poverty. With globally affordable solar, we'll be able to provide that step for the more than two billion people living on less than $2 a day, and make sure the world's poorest citizens have access to basic amenities like refrigeration for life-saving medicines, and fuel for cooking, water purification, and heating.
  • Since the sun shines everywhere, every country will have safe, secure, reliable energy, and war over oil will be a thing of the past.
  • States offer residential renewable energy incentives as high as $20,000, and the federal government passed a new round of federal tax credits in 2008 that don't expire until 2016. Learn more about federal incentives from the Solar Energy Industries Association, and about state incentives from the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency.

Drawbacks

  • People often worry about the fact that the sun isn't always shining. This does limit the ability of passive systems, but PV systems store surpluses of solar energy that can be used at night and whenever it's a cloudy day.
  • According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), "Materials used in some solar systems can create health and safety hazards for workers and anyone else coming into contact with them;" examples include arsenic and cadmium. UCS goes on to note, though, that "none of these potential hazards is much different in quality or magnitude from the innumerable hazards people face routinely in an industrial society." The majority of today's solar systems are silicon-based, without toxins like cadmium.

What It Will Take

In order to move fast enough to avert the devastation of climate change and build real energy security and economic prosperity, it'll take getting solar to scale with abundant and nontoxic materials, so that solar becomes cheap and affordable worldwide. So that people install solar everywhere-on rooftops, parking lots, and bridges; on neighborhood centers that serve all the homes and businesses in the community; on "solar farms" in industrial parks or on brownfields in inner cities or lands controlled by Native Americans to fuel super-efficient batteries or hydrogen fuel cells for green cars and trucks.

 

Learn more ...

Here are some of our recent articles on solar energy, from our magazine (the Green American) and from our online green-business interview column.

Solar Leasing from Sungevity »
California, Arizona, and Colorado members: Get solar on your house with no money down – a zero-cost solar lease from our allies at Sungevity.