Just 10% solar would be like of taking 59 million cars off the road!Solar power is the energy source of the future, and unlike fusion, which has also been called that, we can actually start building that cleaner future with it today. No need to wait decades, waiting for a breakthrough. Every single new solar panel that is manufactured and installed somewhere reduces our dependence on dirtier sources of energy, and since there are not 'fuel' costs with the sun, the upfront investment is the only thing needed; no need to spend a lot more every year just to keep the energy flowing. That's a very different dynamic compared to fossil fuels.
So we know that the sun's potential is plentiful - almost infinite, for our needs - but what does that mean concretely for a country like the United States? A new report by Environment America attempts to clarify things a little.
First, as you can see on the map above, even the states that get the least sunlight could still meet all of their needs just from solar energy. But that's just a handful of states. Next we have a larger minority of somewhat less sunny states where the sun could provide 'only' between 5x and 25x and 25x and 100x the amount of energy required, and then we have the majority of states (though not all of the most populous ones, but that's fine, as grids can be interconnected and we only need to get to 1x anyway) where the solar potential is more than 100x!
This map is based on data from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
Even if we forget about the gigantic potential of dedicated solar farms and focus just on solar rooftop, there are 35 million residential and commercial rooftops that could host solar panels across the United States. We're very very far from even being close to having exhausted all that space that is currently not doing much.
As you can see below, the rate of growth is very rapid in many states, and the total cumulative capacity in some states is already in the multi-gigawatt range.
Of course, if we're talking about rooftop solar, we don't just need sunlight, we also need an abundance of roofs. Some states do better than others on that front, but it's certainly not a limiting factor:
Nationally, solar PV capacity increased at a rate of 77% per year from 2010 to 2013. According to the report: "If solar installations continue to increase at less than one-third of that annual rate of growth (22 percent) between 2013 and 2030, America would have enough solar energy to generate 10 percent of its electricity."
That might not seem like much, but the thing with exponential growth is that it might take you longer to get to 10% than it takes you to get from 10% to 50% and more because by then you are installing so many more panels every year and total capacity is cumulative (as you can see below).
And producing just 10% of U.S. electricity from solar power would reduce America’s global warming pollution by 280 million metric tons in 2030, the equivalent of taking 59 million cars off the road. It would also greatly enhance air quality and reduce smog in many areas that are downwind from coal plants.
And don't forget: So far predictions about the growth of solar have been way too pessimistic. The actual future might be better than we expect.
I'll leave you with one of my favorite charts. It shows why solar is bound to take over the world sooner or later: