Clean Power

Published on April 1st, 2014 | by Zachary Shahan


Solar Energy Is The Mother Lode

April 1st, 2014 by  

Originally published on Cost of Solar*.

Where does the energy we need, animals need, and plants need come from? Largely, it just comes from the sun. Plants use solar energy to grow and develop, and animals and humans then get that energy from plants. It’s an amazing thing that we generally don’t give much thought to.

Interestingly, a similar thing we don’t give much attention to is that the fuel we use to create electricity and to power our vehicles also essentially comes from the same source. Fossilized remains of plants and animals are burnt in order to create our electricity and move our cars and planes forward.

Does all this get you thinking? It certainly got me thinking….

When it comes to energy, the bottom line is, solar energy is the mother lode. The sun is the mother of our gigantic energy supplies. Many people who have reflected on this have seen that solar energy is the most promising source of energy in the long term (and, increasingly, in the medium and short term). As a 1931 quotation from Thomas Edison on the bottom of this website states, “I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.”

Unfortunately for Mr. Edison, we have probably waited quite a bit too long. But at least we are getting to it now!

Join the US solar power rooftop revolution!

Solar Energy Potential vs Energy Potential From Other Renewables & Fossil Fuels

Beyond general reflection, check out this fascinating chart below regarding the potential of solar energy compared to other commons sources of energy. But before doing so, pay attention to this very important note: solar energy potential and energy potential shown for the other renewable energy resources is annual potential, while the energy potential shown for the fossil fuel resources is total recoverable reserves.

solar energy potential Its Time To Do The ObviousSource: Perez & Perez, 2009a

Yep, solar energy really is the mother lode.

So, the question is, what have we been waiting for? Well, we had to develop a technology that could efficiently and cost-effectively capture that solar energy and turn it into electricity. Luckily, we’ve now been able to develop such technology, and solar panels are so ridiculously cheap now (after years of rapid cost drops) that the average American who goes solar now saves over $20,000 over 20 years from doing so.

Perhaps it’s time to do the obvious and put your money on solar energy… just as Thomas Edison would have done if he were alive today. At the very least, get a quote in order to see how much you could save by going solar today.

*Full Disclosure: CleanTechnica and Cost of Solar have a financial relationship. That said, CleanTechnica doesn’t get anything in return (no additional revenue) from republishing this article.

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About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the typed word. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor, but he's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession, Solar Love, and Bikocity. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in.

  • David Howes

    Every two years approximately, the amount of electricity produced by solar panels worldwide doubles. They’re not only getting more efficient, but they’re becoming more affordable. More panels were installed in the last 18 months than were installed in the previous 30 years. That’s exponential growth. If I take one and double it to two, then double it to four, then double it to eight, and keep going, in 30 doublings I’ll have over one BILLION. That’s the rate at which solar has been growing since the sixties, despite wars and economic downturns.

  • TCFlood

    I would find it very helpful if you would put DATES at the top of each post. It would help when surfing your site to see how recent any article is, especially if there are no comments following from which to get an idea of the posting timeline.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Check the address in your browser.

      (Not that dates on the articles would be a bad thing….)

      • A Real Libertarian

        Not all of Zachary’s sites have the date in the address.

  • Steve Grinwis

    … Combined with cheap batteries, individual soar will probably be the energy end game. I also foresee battery trucks, or people using their electric cars to top up the tanks at home if they start running low during a long spell of cloudy days in winter.

    Centralized generation only really makes sense when it provides thermodynamic efficiency gains, and that doesn’t really exist for a solar panel.

    • Bob_Wallace

      I just can’t see solar + batteries getting cheaper than wind.

      And the grid will survive far into the future because most people won’t want to run their own utility company. Think about taking off for a long weekend during a cloudy spell. Who’s going to keep your system up so that your freezer doesn’t thaw? You’ll be driving your car….

      • Steve Grinwis

        It doesn’t have to be cheaper than wind. It has to be cheaper than wind + the cost of a grid. Right now, my grid costs are nearly as high add my power charges, a little over 7 cents per kWh and rising.

        As for the other issue, you will obviously need enough battery to last you a sufficient amount of time. As battery prices drop, and energy efficiency rises, this eventually makes sense. I can totally see people shelling out for a 200 kWh battery bank, and having a house that only used 5 to 10 kWh a day. Then you can go on vacation foot quite a while.

        And you could even have a battery monitoring service. When it gets to a low state of charge, the battery truck rolls up, juices you up, and sends a bill in the mail.

        This isn’t next year, or even next decade. I don’t know. Perhaps a local micro grid with integrated storage makes sense… But massive expensive grids that span continents? That will eventually be too expensive, and unjustified.

        • Bob_Wallace

          I’m guessing differently than you are.

          Perhaps because I’m off the grid.

        • Rick Kargaard

          Battery advances are becoming the key as the price of panels come down.

          • Bob_Wallace

            A 200 kWh battery bank @ $100/kWh = $20,000.

            $20,000 in a 3% fixed account = $50/month. A lot more than maintaining a grid connection and purchasing 3rd and 4th days backup, I would guess.

            (In an non-managed index fund that $20k would earn $133/mo.)

          • Rick Kargaard

            You are right, cost is still too high. You need more storage for a low management system. The other factor is the cost of grid supplied electricity. The price, in most areas, is still too low for individual solar to make significant inroads. The future could be quite different

          • Bob_Wallace

            Solar will get cheaper. That’s about as guaranteed as anything in the future can be guaranteed.

            Storage will get cheaper. But battery materials for current battery technologies are (IIRC) over $75/kWh. Without a breakthrough in battery technology there’s a limit on how cheaply we can make batteries. If someone can make sulfur based batteries work, for example, we could drop that cost lower. But based on what we can do right now 200 kWh might get no cheaper than $20k.

            Wind farms are producing at about 5 cents (without subsidies). Let the utility earn 2 cents per kWh? Charge a $15(?) per month fee for grid usage. Can’t make rooftop solar and store it for 7 cents.

            I can see houses getting some storage. Enough to carry them through the late afternoon/early evening peak. If they are getting ToU billing. Then switch over to grid power for nighttime and put enough power in the batteries to deal with the morning pre-solar hour peak.

            Germany pre-/post-solar peaks in the graph. The places I can see end-user storage working.

          • Rick Kargaard

            The grid in my area is a lot more epensive than that. It depends on usage to some degree but for me the cost is about 12 cents per kwh. or about 40 dollars a month. More than the cost of the electricity.

      • Rick Kargaard

        You have a point, but low maintenance systems, with litlle management requirements are possible. Costs just need to come down.

  • jburt56

    Solar is the Big Kahuna!!!

  • Dmitri

    What’s a motherload? Mother lode?

    • mds

      urban dictionary: “jackpot, big winnings or big findings”

      • Urban Dictionary is not a real dictionary. It’s a place where semiliterate people explain and justify their errors. The headline should read Mother Lode – an archaic gold mining reference. It should more correctly not contain archaisms.

    • Woops, thanks.

  • Banned by Bob

    Zach, have you or anyone else you know produced a format that demonstrates rates of return on a solar investment by locale so that people can compare an investment in this vs their other alternatives? I recognize that it can only be an approximation due to local specificity, but at least it can provide an apples to apples view. Thanks.

  • Will E

    Zachary, totally agree.
    and more important, Solar is on my roof, not far away, and on my neighbours roof.
    In the Netherlands and when I go to Germany, not far, there is Solar on the roofs.
    Sun is everywhere, Solar is everywhere to produce local income.

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