Environment

Huge Potential of Solar Energy Use Across the U.S. is Increasing

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Huge Potential of Solar Energy Use Across the U.S. is Increasing
Bernadine Racoma

China is the largest power consumer in the world and the United States ranks second. With the climate change goals to reduce global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, it means carbon emissions must drop by 70% by the middle of this century. One of the potential renewable energy sources that do not come from fossil fuels is solar energy. A recent report names 20 cities in the United States that were making strides in clean energy programs last year.

Top cities generating solar power

Topping the chart is San Diego, California. The city is known for its sunny climate for the major part of the year. But based on the report, San Diego has only developed about 14% of its solar power potential for small buildings, although it was enough to make the city the nation’s number one in solar energy generation.

Some of the cities included in the list are Los Angeles, which ranked second, followed by Honolulu, San Jose, Phoenix, Indianapolis, New York, San Antonio, Albuquerque, Las Vegas and San Francisco.

Increase in solar energy capacity

The demand for zero-carbon energy is expected to increase. At the end of last year, the 20 cities in the list helped the U.S. reach a solar energy capacity of 42,000 megawatts. According to the Frontier Group and the Environment America Research and Policy Center, that much energy were enough to reduce carbon emission each year by 52.3 million metric tons and provide power to 8.3 million homes with average power consumption.

The Carbon Mitigation Initiative, which is based at Princeton University, did a research on solar power use. The report said that the global solar capacity must increase 100 times for the emissions to level off in a span of 50 years. The report added that to make solar power effective, an additional seven key areas should work together to reduce carbon emissions. Deforestation must slow down. Reduction should be seen in nuclear and biofuel dependency. There should be improvements in carbon capture and storage, coal-to-gas power switching, wind power and energy efficiency.

Cost reduction

Eleven years ago, switching to solar power was almost a luxury and only for the privileged because of its prohibitive cost. Due to technological advancements, solar panel prices and installation costs have gone down. Even without the subsidies, the prices are lower than using natural gas and coal across major economies. The average cost of solar PV panels has gone down by 60% since 2010. Solar electric system cost has now been slashed by half, making solar power more accessible and affordable.

The increase in the use of solar power also spawned a major industry that generates new jobs. By November 2010, available solar-related jobs jumped to more than 123%, providing close to 209,000 jobs in the U.S. alone.

Cool innovations

One of the turn-offs among home and building owners is the non-aesthetic appearance of solar panels and their frames. Some industry development groups have addressed the issue and are coming up with frameless solar panels while other groups have created specialized mounting equipment to match this type of panels.

Aside from the typical silicon, glass solar panels are now available. They are more durable than silicon, less likely to erode, have increased resistance to fire hazards, and are very attractive visually. This year, we’ll see the introduction of solar windows, which appear like clear glass.

Roofing materials have a new addition as well, with Tesla coming up with solar tiles that will definitely blend perfectly with regular roofing tiles. It was announced late last year that the company will produce different product lines: smooth glass tiles, textured glass tiles, slate glass and Tuscan glass tiles.

Expect to see some homes with interesting additions to their roofs. A company in Boston will be introducing solar skins in various designs to complement the colors and aesthetic appeal of a home’s roof. The solar skins will either enhance the visual appeal of the roof or hide the distinct color and look of traditional solar panels.

There are more innovative solar panel products coming out this year, including double-sided panels that can capture sunlight from the front and back of the panels. There will also be panels with inverters to increase efficiency.

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