Growing Costs of Energy
A Need for Alternative Sources
Electricity costs for commercial end-users in the United States rose an average of 14% between 2003 and 2008. Energy demand across the country is expected to grow even as fossil fuel costs rise. Among the alternative energy technologies, solar photovoltaic power is among the most promising options for reducing costs in the long-term.
Problems with Traditional Energy
The US depends upon fossil fuels, mostly coal, for over 44% of its electric power generation needs. The coal industry faces higher delivery costs due to rising oil prices, more stringent environmental regulations, and increased mining costs as high quality coal reserves become more difficult to access. In addition, coal’s high carbon emissions are likely to become an even more significant cost liability.
Many energy analysts favor natural gas to replace coal. To some extent, this shift is desirable: as a relatively clean burning source with baseload potential, natural gas can be a strong complement to solar power. However, natural gas resources, like other fossil fuels, are neither renewable nor pollution-free.
Nuclear energy, a carbon emissions-free energy source, suffers from two serious drawbacks that significantly add to its ultimate costs. First, the question of what to do with nuclear waste is yet to be resolved. Second, there are major environmental liabilities associated with the use of radioactive materials – as demonstrated in Japan during 2011, even well-prepared societies are vulnerable to nuclear accidents, which can bring devastating consequences.
Recent research published by the Edison Foundation estimates that the national grid will require approximately $1.5 trillion of investment to maintain reliability of service in the face of growing demand. Power generation on-site by end users, also known as distributed power, works toward alleviating the need for expensive grid infrastructure redevelopment.
Solar photovoltaic systems supply their maximum production during the highest energy use periods of the day, early to mid-afternoon, especially in the summer when air conditioning needs demand vast amounts of capacity. These periods of maximum electricity demand also tend to coincide with increased grid-losses and system inefficiency. As a result, solar is the logical choice for meeting peak power demand.
Energy and National Security
Global energy security and the phenomenon of anthropogenic climate change are two of the most significant challenges of our generation. The majority of the world’s oil reserves are located in countries with unstable political regimes, resulting in major economic and geopolitical liabilities for heavy energy users such as the United States.
Concurrently, the threat of climate change poses an even wider ranging threat to security and prosperity, with estimates of total costs well into the trillions of dollars. National policies to address these challenges are gaining momentum, fueling a push towards clean distributed power sources such as solar photovoltaic.