Solar Increases Security, Creates Jobs, Cuts Pollution: Study

Solar energy must be a key component of any federal energy strategy in the United States, according to a new study by the environmental group Greenpeace.

WASHINGTON, DC, US, 2001-11-20 [] “A small investment in solar power would light the way to energy independence, new jobs and reduced pollution for every state in the nation,” says Kert Davies. “Solar power is safe, practical and clean. And best of all, you don’t have to import it or plunder precious wilderness to get it.” The study, ‘Solar Promise,’ says there are 986 PV systems currently installed in the United States, with a total of 19 MW capacity. Another 69 MW is planned or under construction, and the recent ballot measure in California could add another 70 MW. California leads the country in installed solar capacity at 10 MW, followed by Arizona with 1.8 MW, New York with 1.2 MW and Texas with 1 MW. Hawaii leads in installed solar capacity per capita, followed by Arizona and California. Vermont, Idaho, Washington, Oregon and California have the lowest overall carbon emissions from in-state power plants. North Dakota, Wyoming, Delaware, Indiana, and New Mexico have the highest carbon emissions from in-state power plants. The study demonstrates that if 1 percent of the 105 million homes in the U.S. were to install a 480 watt solar system, there would be 500,000 to 700,000 MWh of electricity generated and 678 to 910 million pounds of CO2 emissions would be displaced. Between 478 and 658 million pounds of coal must be burned to generate that amount of power, and emit greenhouse gas emissions and impact on global warming. Installation and maintenance for the PV systems would also create 15,000 high tech jobs. The study is linked with the report that Greenpeace and the European Solar Power Association released in October on the global status of solar power. That report, ‘Solar Generation,’ shows that with adequate government support, PV power could provide energy for one billion people and two millions jobs by 2020. By 2040, PV power could supply 26 percent of global electricity needs. The latest report details how a few countries in Europe and Asia have become industry leaders, while lack of government support in the U.S. has caused the solar industry to lose the edge in solar technology, and will lose tens of thousands of potential jobs to other countries in coming decades. Solar thermal can provide cheaper energy, with greater savings per dollar, by using the sun’s heat to heat water or space. Approximately 127,000 U.S. homes have solar water heaters and, if installed in 1 percent of homes, could displace 11 percent of the 10 tons (20,000 pounds) of carbon dioxide that an average U.S. home emits each year, or a combined total of 1 megatonne of carbon dioxide. Last week, residents of San Francisco agreed to fund for developing of 50 MW of solar energy in the city, and the city “has jumped ahead of the nation in starting to build an energy future independent of the whims of the big fossil fuel companies or the utilities,” says Danny Kennedy of Greenpeace. “California’s strong step forward with renewable energy won’t mean much if other states don’t follow its lead.” The study finds major differences between states in terms of the incentives they offer consumers for investing in solar power. Sunbelt states were not necessarily the most solar intensive. By putting 480 watt grid-connected PV systems on every one hundred homes in the nation, Greenpeace says it would show that solar works everywhere. Its website has a map of states, for which it has posted data from the Department of Energy on installed PV projects and carbon dioxide/MWh rates. “Internationally, we are pushing hard for a commitment at the WSSD meeting next September to fund renewable energy in the global south,” says Kert Davies.