Image credit: 5MinLife
Not long ago, I was listening on the radio to a representative of a major utility talk about solar. He was not, he said, worried about competition. Solar would have to grow faster than any power source in history, and it still wouldn't meet future projected demand. I couldn't help but feel he was wrong. And I've just watched a great video that helps clarify why.
Apologies about the annoying ad—but once you get to the interview with Jeremy Leggett, he says something very simple, but very profound—as soon as people see solar energy at work, they want to see more of it. The fact is that generating solar, often right where it is needed, from space-age technology with no moving parts, is a compelling and exciting proposition for almost everybody.
While the purely economic costs may not currently be comparable with fossil fuels, the price of solar cells may reach $1 a watt as soon as 2012. And then when you think about the link between coal mining and birth defects, or the real price of gas, the hidden costs not currently paid for by fossil fuels start to tip the balance.
True, there are downsides to solar too - most notably energy storage and intermittent supply. But as technology improves, and as folks start seeing their favorite football team installing 2MW solar arrays, 9MW+ of solar roofs appearing in their cities, or huge solar fields being built in weeks, it's not hard to imagine that we reach a tipping point where solar becomes the must-have technology for homes, businesses and institutions around the world.
Sure, as founder of Solarcentury, the company that just turned an old tin mine into a solar power plant, Leggett is likely to paint a rosier picture than most. But even if you take his personal biases and vested interests into account, his central point still stands—solar and other renewables are not directly analogous to coal and fossil fuels. How those energy sources grew in the past will have little relevance as a precedent for what happens as clean energy matures.
A tipping point for renewables is not inevitable, but it is certainly possible. And if a 100% renewable energy future is to be achieved, the sooner it comes the better.
More on the Potential for Renewable Energy
100% Renewable Energy is Possible by 2050. Here's How
Solar Cells at $1 a Watt by 2012
Britain's Biggest 5MW Solar Field, Built in Just 6 Weeks