A report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance indicated the US solar market over the next ten years could grow by 100 billion dollars. The same document states current US solar capacity is just 1.4 gigawatts, but could rise to 44 gigawatts by 2020. The main reasons for such a dramatic potential increase are dropping costs of solar technology and government support. Other important factors are high electricity costs from conventional plants such as coal, and growing awareness of the impact of fossil fuels on climate change.
Milo Sjardin, Bloomberg New Energy Finance Research Director said, “Policy, rather than sunshine, will remain the US’s greatest solar resource for the next few years. By the middle of this decade, however, the US retail solar market will be driven by fundamental, unsubsidized competition, which should transform the US into one of the world’s most dynamic solar markets.” (Source: Risker.com)
Just recently a huge 1,000 megawatt solar plant was approved for construction in the California desert, “With the approval of the Blythe project, the solar projects approved on BLM public lands in the last few weeks have the potential to generate up to 2800 megawatts of renewable energy. That’s enough to power up to 2 million homes, ” said BLM Director Bob Abbey. This project also calls for habitat to be set aside for native wildlife such as desert tortoises, the western burrowing oil and bighorn sheep.” (Source: Sustainablebusiness.com)
The cost of solar power without subsidies is slightly less than $200 per megawatt hour is about four times greater than the same figure for coal at $56 per megawatt hour. However, as solar technology costs decline, and subsidies are maintained or increased solar is slated to replace some coal plants. In fact it was reported recently an America company has said they found a way to produce solar panels for 40 percent less. Also, the subsidies for coal were not mentioned in the other source, and they are significant. A Sierra Club article states for the period 2002-2008 the coal industry received $17 billion in subsidies.
So when you see a cost comparison for solar vs. coal, always keep in mind the cost of electricity from coal needs to include billions in dollars of subsidies from the government in the form of tax breaks, etc. In other words, coal as a fuel does not stand entirely on its own, nor does the oil and gas industry.
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