According to Doc Brown, Marty McFly’s DeLorean needed 1.21 gigawatts to travel back in time. To put this in perspective, new gas power plants are about 0.5 gigawatts, typical large utility scale solar power plants are 0.1 gigawatts, and the average rooftop solar system is 0.000005 gigawatts (5,000 watts). Although it takes a lot of solar panels to generate the power our society needs, solar is now one of the cheapest and cleanest sources. And “clean and cheap” is now the world’s preferred power source: in 2013 the world added 143 gigawatts of new renewable energy generating capacity compared to 141 in new plants that burn coal, natural gas, or oil.
Fossil-fueled power plants have not just taken a temporary back seat to renewables – we are witnessing a long term transition in the world’s energy sources. The price of wind and solar power is on par or less than fossil fuel electricity. Renewable energy prices are on a steady pace to get cheaper, while gas and oil will inevitably go up as supplies are constrained and climate change effects are considered. Coal plants are being decommissioned, and new nuclear plants are effectively doomed — it took 36 years from start to finish for the last nuclear plant to come on line. Compare that to 45 days for a new solar power plant on your home’s roof, or three years for a utility-scale solar project.
Utilities are installing solar power plants to generate electricity for their customers because solar is cheaper.
But this change in our energy sources will take many years, just as the complete transition from “horse and buggy” transportation to gas-powered cars took 50 years. As with other large-scale technological changes, customer economics will force the current incumbent energy providers to change (unlikely), or go out of business (more likely). It’s a virtuous cycle as more customers are satisfied with renewable power generation, and more people are employed in these industries. For more on this inexorable, economics-driven transition to a clean energy economy — and what we need to do to accelerate the transition — please Listen Up to this week’s Energy Show on Renewable Energy World.
About The Energy Show
As energy costs consume more and more of our hard-earned dollars, we as consumers really start to pay attention. But we don’t have to resign ourselves to $5/gallon gas prices, $200/month electric bills and $500 heating bills. There are literally hundreds of products, tricks and techniques that we can use to dramatically reduce these costs — very affordably.
The Energy Show on Renewable Energy World is a weekly 20-minute podcast that provides tips and advice to reduce your home and business energy consumption. Every week we’ll cover topics that will help cut your energy bill, explain new products and technologies in plain English, and cut through the hype so that you can make smart and cost-effective energy choices.
About Your Host
Barry Cinnamon is a long-time advocate of renewable energy and is a widely recognized solar power expert. In 2001 he founded Akeena Solar — which grew to become the largest national residential solar installer by the middle of the last decade with over 10,000 rooftop customers coast to coast. He partnered with Westinghouse to create Westinghouse Solar in 2010, and sold the company in 2012.
His pioneering work on reducing costs of rooftop solar power systems include Andalay, the first solar panel with integrated racking, grounding and wiring; the first UL listed AC solar panel; and the first fully “plug and play” AC solar panel. His current efforts are focused on reducing the soft costs for solar power systems, which cause system prices in the U.S. to be double those of Germany.
Although Barry may be known for his outspoken work in the solar industry, he has hands-on experience with a wide range of energy saving technologies. He’s been doing residential energy audits since the punch card days, developed one of the first ground-source heat pumps in the early ‘80s, and always abides by the Laws of Thermodynamics.
Lead image: Green microphone via Shutterstock