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Solar energy could provide 10% of US energy

Solar power could meet 10% of energy needs in the United States by 2030, and reduce the US$350 billion to import oil every year.

“Americans today import oil from a desert half a world away, in the most unsettled and dangerous region of the earth, just to power a trip to the grocery store,” says Sean Garren of Environment America. “It would be much easier and more secure to harness the heat and light that strikes our rooftops every day.”

The report, Building a Solar Future: Repowering America’s Homes, Businesses & Industry with Solar Energy, examines a wide variety of solar technologies and tools, including photovoltaics (PV), concentrating solar power, solar water heaters, solar space heating, and passive solar design.

Solar has many applications

The report argues that there are many ways to take advantage of solar energy which can be converted to electricity, or used for heating and cooling. It can replace the fossil fuels burned at power plants, and profiles various applications of solar energy currently in use.

“At a time when we spend US$350bn importing oil from Saudi Arabia and other countries every year, the United States must move away from foreign oil to energy independence,” adds Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

“A dramatic expansion of solar power is a clean and economical way to help break our dependence on foreign oil, reduce GHG emissions that cause global warming, improve our geopolitical position, and create good-paying green jobs.”

Sourcing 10% of energy from solar within two decades is equivalent to the energy that the US currently produces at nuclear reactors, or is half the energy consumed in cars and light trucks, or half of the energy currently obtained from burning coal.

Governments at all levels must support solar

Environment America is using the report to call on governments at the local, state and federal levels to commit to expanding solar energy, by adopting policies to make solar energy an important future energy. It recommends investing in solar technologies, more research and development, requiring utilities to source more of their power from renewable energy resources, requiring buildings codes to move towards zero net-energy, educating the public, and training an effective workforce.

“The sun provides more energy in an hour than all the coal mines and oil wells do in a year,” explains Garren. “This solar energy is limitless and pollution free. Solar power is also increasingly cost competitive with older, dirtier sources of energy. America can and must figure out how to tap the heat and power of the sun.”

“A comprehensive suite of public policy strategies can remove many of the common barriers to solar energy development and help to make this vision a reality,” the report explains. “Solar energy can help power virtually every aspect of America’s economy.”

New homes can be built to maximise passive solar design and the use of solar electric panels and water heating systems. Solar PV panels can be installed on the roofs of 40% of homes across the USA, while solar thermal collectors can be installed on 50% of residential roofs.

Solar ideal for farms

Solar PV can provide a large share of the electricity needed to operate a farm and keep harvested crops cool, and can pump water, provide irrigation and meet other needs in remote areas that are not easily reached by the grid. Many farms could also take advantage of solar energy for heating greenhouses, ventilating barns or drying crops.

“The development of plug-in vehicles (both plug-in hybrids and fully electric vehicles) will allow renewable energy to play a larger role in powering our transportation system,” it adds. Toyota is developing solar charging stations for its Prius plug-in hybrid vehicle, due on the market next year, and vast areas of highways and parking lots across the US could house solar panels.

“America can obtain a large share of its energy from the sun but it will not happen on its own,” it concludes. “Local, state and federal governments must implement public policies that remove the barriers currently impeding the spread of solar energy and adopt policies to make solar energy an important part of America’s energy future.”

Consistent rules and supportive laws are required

“Consistent rules to ensure access to solar energy are needed to overcome bureaucratic barriers that can prevent individuals and businesses from using solar power,” it adds. “Solar access laws prevent homeowners’ associations and municipalities from adopting rules that effectively ban the use of solar energy, while revisions to permitting rules and utility regulations can reduce the hassle and cost of installing solar energy and ensure that people are compensated fairly for the solar power they supply to the grid.”

“Investments in a solar grid will be needed to fully tap America’s solar energy potential,” it notes. “A well-designed ‘smart grid’ can ensure that solar power is an asset to the electric grid, while limited investments in new transmission capacity can help to tap the nation’s best solar resources.”

Environment America is a federation of state-based, citizen-funded environmental organisations.

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Photovoltaics (PV)  •  Solar electricity  •  Solar heating and cooling