Fossil fuels are not going to last forever. Coal is not going to last hundreds of years – in fact, it is estimated that it will run out by 2088. This is part of the reason why there has been such a strong push for renewable energy.
Another factor in the rise of the renewable energy industry is, of course, related to the fact that fossil fuels are the primary source of carbon emissions. So if we want truly sustainable energy, then we need an alternative. If coal runs out, and renewables or nuclear energy can’t meet the needs of a ballooning global population, then we’ll really be in dire straits.
However, that’s just one chaotic scenario. If we continue to burn fossil fuels and emit huge quantities of carbon into the atmosphere, then the climate could warm so much by 2088 that we could equally find our continued existence under threat.
What is promising, though, are the great strides achieved by investment in renewables. And if we look at solar energy, in particular, the future starts to look a bit brighter.
The exponential growth of the solar industry
Steve O’Neil, CEO at solar panel maker firm REC, recently told CNBC that solar power is growing exponentially because of the falling cost of solar energy, which is due to technological advancements. Indeed, as more innovations are made to solar panel technology, the easier and cheaper it will be to meet our energy needs through their use. As O’Neil says:
There’s no doubt that costs are going to continue to come down. Now, around the world, solar energy costs about 8 cents a kilowatt hour. That’s down 70 percent since 2010, and those costs are going to continue to come down as we develop the technology.
An important advantage of solar is that it is extremely practical. O’Neil emphasises:
Solar can be deployed anywhere. It’s fully scalable, it’s quick to deploy. You can do it on a rooftop, you can do it on ground, on water, just one of the advantages of solar.
Yes, solar panels can be installed even on water. Back in June, China turned on the world’s largest floating solar power plant. These power plants are advantageous, because they don’t take up valuable space on land, and the water serves to cool the panels, which makes them work more efficiently.
Although China has a reputation for being a massive polluter (given how smoggy its cities can get), the country is actually leading the way in terms renewable research and development.
Other countries’ success with solar
China is not the only country that is benefiting from increased investment in solar energy. In 2016, Costa Rica generated nearly all (98.1%) of its electricity from renewable sources. On April 30 this year, Germany produced 85% of its electricity with renewables. In the UK, solar has generated a quarter of the demand for electricity, surpassing output from nuclear power stations for the first time ever.
Records have also been set in the US, as a report found that solar and wind generated 10% of the country’s electricity in March. The Department of Energy (DOE) in the US also announced that solar costs just 6 cents per kilowatt-hour, hitting the government target three years ahead of schedule.
These achievements with solar are pretty incredible, to say the least. If renewables receive continued and increasing investment, then it’s entirely realistic for the entire world to meet its electricity needs with solar and wind energy.
Nonetheless, as previously stated by Red Planet, renewable energy isn’t sustainable by definition. Since solar farms require enormous amounts of land, floating solar power plants may be the way forward. Moreover, we may figure out how to harness solar energy in space, which could be an even more sustainable and efficient source of energy.
About the author: Sam Woolfe @samwoolfe
Sam is a writer who is especially interested in space exploration, sustainability, animal agriculture, nutrition, wellbeing and smart drugs.