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Why Do I Like Solar Energy?

There are several reasons why I like solar energy. Of all the systems I have put in place on our property, the solar panels and solar water heater require the least amount of attention and on-going maintenance. Once installed, they produce energy for us every day and lower our utility bills.

Here are some facts about solar energy that I find very interesting.

The sun is an endless source of energy. It is a giant fusion reactor that will never stop producing energy for us. Someone out there is saying, “it will stop someday!” When it does, trust me we won’t be worried about our solar panels.

Enough solar energy hits the earth in about an hour to supply all the earth’s energy needs for a year. Let’s put that another way. There are 8760 hours in a year. That means we only have to harness 1/8760th of the solar energy reaching the earth. That’s 0.011%. As the demand for energy increases, there is plenty of capacity to handle it. Think about that. It’s astounding.

An area of less than 2000 square miles covered with solar panels could supply all of the United States’ electricity needs. That is equivalent to a square roughly 44 miles on each side. To put that in perspective, Rhode Island is the smallest state in the US and has an area of 1214 square miles. Delaware is 2490 square miles. It would not be hard to find 2000 square miles somewhere in the middle of Texas that would hardly go noticed if covered by solar panels. I mean, have you ever driven across Texas? It doesn’t have to be in one contiguous area. How about on every roof? I don’t have statistics, but I bet it wouldn’t take a high percentage of the roofs in the US to produce all of our electricity.

In 2008, the government spent $700 billion for TARP to bail out the banking system. If we had spent that money instead on solar panels, it would have been enough to install a 2000 watt solar array on the roof of every owner-occupied home in the US. That money could have gone a long way to achieving energy independence in our country. Instead it went to line the pockets of rich bankers, but that’s a topic for another day. I don’t advocate the government spending any of our money, but in this case it would have been a much better use of it.

Why focus on Solar energy?
During my lifetime, the dominant energy source has always been oil. It is so pervasive in our lives that we tend to think like it always has been and always will be there and readily available. But will it? There are many debates over the topic of peak oil. Are we really running out of oil? Or will it be so abundant that gas will remain at $2.50 per gallon like it is today? To put it bluntly, we’re crazy to think that the prices aren’t going up. I’m of the opinion that one day they will go up abruptly and painfully. Maybe we won’t even be able to get it. See my earlier post about the 2008 gasoline shortage. Alternatives like oil, natural gas, and coal are not the future. History will show that fracking is not the answer you’ve been sold. If you think fossil fuels are going to be abundant forever, take the time to check out some of Chris Martenson’s great work over at Peak Prosperity. His work on the Crash Course is very informative and I believe the math is undeniable. Fossil fuels have a place. They are useful for heavy equipment, trucks, and trains. We don’t need it for cars. In my opinion, we’ll see most passenger cars on the road change to electric in my lifetime.

Fossil fuels are not the only answer for our future. Solar energy is. Solar gets a bad name in the media. The government supports a failed solar company and it’s all over the news. An oil rig creates a catastrophe in the Gulf and a few years later most people don’t remember it as long as their gas prices are low. What were the long term negative effects of that disaster? They were pretty bad. What were the long term effects of the Solyndra scandal – not really anything. The reality is the big oil companies just have more money for lobbyists and advertising. With any emergency technology, some companies will fail. The best will succeed. That’s what completion is for. What’s important is that there are a lot of solar energy companies working on new, more efficient technologies.

The electrical grid is an important part of solar energy systems. There is a lot of talk about the need to upgrade the electrical grid. It’s a fact. That would also be a better use of taxpayer money than bailing out bankers. Let’s spend it on infrastructure that will benefit us for decades. Elon Musk is a personal hero of mine. His Tesla electric cars are leading the revolution. Finally electric cars are here to stay. His battery factory in Nevada might just be a more important contribution. The Tesla Powerwall battery could lead to a massively distributed electrical system, reducing our critical dependence on the grid. The Tesla battery can be used in conjunction with a solar energy system or standalone for home battery backup. I’m very encouraged by developments like that.

We already rely on the sun for life every day. It gives us warmth. It helps plants grow so we can have oxygen and food. But we can get so much more from it if we learn how to harness it. Solar is a clean, renewable energy source. Personally, I’m not waiting for the crisis. I’ve already put in solar energy systems for electricity and hot water. Even if a crisis never happens, my family benefits every day from lower energy bills. That is an important step on the path to self-sufficiency and independence.

Resources for this post:
Chris Martenson’s Peak Prosperity website: http://www.peakprosperity.com
Facts about the Solyndra scandal: http://ourfuture.org/20120926/the-phony-solyndra-solar-scandal
Elon Musk on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elon_Musk
The Tesla Powerwall battery: http://www.teslamotors.com/powerwall

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