Photo: david.nikonvscanon, Flickr, CC BY
The American public's relationship with clean energy is complicated: Polls consistently show that we overwhelmingly want more of it. The majority of Americans want the government to invest in clean power research and to create jobs in the industry. Yet at the same time, there's a pervasive sense of "we're not there yet" with technologies like solar and wind.
Which is why, if I could choose to have one message unambiguously made clear to the public -- like, maybe, dragging the world's largest airplane banner (towed behind a giant, emissions-free electric plane, of course) across the nation -- it'd be this: We are there. Right now. If we start deploying solar and wind to scale right now, we could run all of the U.S. on clean energy by 2026. From Energy Self-Reliant States (via Climate Progress): "The Germans have installed over 10,000 megawatts of solar panels in the past two years, enough to power 2 million American homes (or most of Los Angeles, CA). If Americans installed local solar at the same torrid pace, we could already power most of the Mountain West, could have a 100 percent solar nation by 2026, while enriching thousands of local communities with new development and jobs."
And what might that look like? ESRS continues: "The following map shows what could have happened had the U.S. kept pace with Germany on solar power in the past two years (installed the same megawatts on a per capita basis). Sunshine could power 10 states!"
The report makes the point that most of Germany's solar expansion hasn't been in huge, centralized plants -- it's been with distributed solar projects like rooftop installations. Which means the projects have been uncontroversial and have had minimal impact on the environment (no desert tortoises imperiled, in other words). We can do this too. Check out Energy Self-Reliant States' breakdown of what percentage of each states' power can be generated by rooftop PV:
That's a lot of headway that can be made on idle, currently unused spaces. Paired with the deployment of wind farms along our coastlines, across the Great Plains, and in Texas, and some central solar generation -- potentially, large-scale concentrated solar projects -- we absolutely can run the nation on clean energy. Within our lifetimes. We just need more shouting from the (soon-to-be-covered-inPV) rooftops to get the word out to Americans that it can be done.