Feature Article

Five Reasons to Be Optimistic About Solar Energy

Commercial-scale solar energy, buoyed by battery storage, is continuing to grow, redefining how we produce and use energy.

May 8, 2018

 Multicrystalline PV cells at University of California, Davis.

Multicrystalline PV cells are less efficient but less expensive than monocrystalline, making them a good choice for larger rooftop applications like this one at University of California, Davis.

Photo: Sunpower
The 1973 oil embargo by the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC) led to gas shortages and price increases throughout the world, and triggered a cascade of events that continues to impact our energy future. With higher fuel costs, geopolitical instability, and increasing pollution, the U.S. was forced to examine how it produced and consumed energy.

Out of this 1970s-era chaos came some true environmental milestones: cars became more fuel efficient with lower emissions; the U.S. established the Environmental Protection Agency; and President Jimmy Carter signed the Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Energy Research, Development, and Demonstration Act, which founded the Solar Energy Research Institute (later renamed the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, or NREL). He established an ambitious goal of having 20% of U.S. energy come from renewable sources by the year 2000 and even installed solar water heating panels on the White House. The U.S was working towards fossil-fuel-free energy independence, and U.S. solar research led the world.

All that changed in 1980 when Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush (a man with deep oil-industry ties) were elected. Their administration labeled solar initiatives “government overreach,” disassembled Carter’s energy independence goals, curtailed U.S. PV research, and even removed the White House solar panels.

The PV industry in the U.S. was severely damaged, but it slowly recovered and has continued to grow. Over the last ten years, lower PV costs and other factors have spurred PV industry growth, making solar power competitive with most fuel choices. But the PV industry is threatened once again by politics and unfavorable regulations. The Trump administration has promoted fossil fuels and enacted tariffs on PV cells and panels, while utilities have made it harder to connect to the power grid. The end result: rising PV costs and fewer installations.

Not all is lost. The following article provides five solid reasons to be optimistic about the future of solar power, including continued impressive growth, an overall positive environmental footprint, increased energy independence, and technological advancements.