It’s frustrating to still hear dissenters say that renewable energy is not ready to compete with fossil fuels as a means to power our country. The solar industry is growing dramatically every year, while fossil fuels continue to be phased out. Solar is no longer the cottage industry it was decades ago.
Stunning advancements in production and financing have brought solar to the playing field with coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear. And here are five reasons why solar is already winning:
1) Jobs – In 2012, solar added 14,000 new jobs, up 36 percent from 2010 and the industry will add another 20,000 jobs this year. The fossil fuels industry cut 4,000 jobs last year.
2) Price – In the last 35 years prices have gone from $77/ watt to around $.75/ watt. That makes solar 99 percent cheaper than it used to be. Since 2008, the cost of coal has risen 13 percent.
3) Capacity – Two thirds of global solar capacity has been installed over the last two years. In contrast, 175 coal fired power plants in the U.S. are expected to be shut down over the next five years (over 10 percent of total capacity). This reflects the rising costs of coal and the implementation of stricter environmental regulations.
4) Investment – driving concerns of a “carbon bubble” fossil fuel companies have been valued in the market based on their reserves of unburned fuel still in the ground. Though if international regulations are put in place to prevent atmospheric CO2 from rising above 450 ppm (the estimated cap to avoid irreversible climate change), much of the listed reserves couldn’t be burned for fuel. Already, the market cap of coal companies has dropped in value 75 percent over the last 5 years. Investors are moving their investments out of coal and oil and into renewables. Warren Buffett has invested $5.4 billion invested in solar and has predicted the end of coal as an American power source.
5) Environmental Impact – fossil fuels emit 3.3 trillion lbs of CO2 annually – an enormous contribution to global climate change – along with 381,740,601 lbs of toxic air pollution annually. Coal fires in abandoned mines put tons of mercury into the atmosphere every year and account for 3 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. Mountaintop removal for coal mining causes flooding, destruction of entire ecosystems, and release of greenhouse gases. Coal combustion waste is the second largest contributor to land fills after solid waste.