Picture the last time your electricity went out and how helpless you felt. Our society’s dependence on the ability to power the appliances and gadgets we use on a daily basis grows every day. According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), in 2010 83% our nation’s energy consumption came from fossil fuel sources (coal, natural gas, petroleum) and only 8% came from renewable sources (biomass, geothermal, hydro, solar, wind) – with solar amounting to less than 1%.
Globally, it’s been rumored that China commissions a new coal plant every week and according to wired.com, by the year 2030 China’s carbon emissions will equal the entire world’s emissions today (8 gigatons a year). The continued growth of carbon emissions is detrimental to our health and the environment, and our physical dependence on fossil fuels can’t last forever. That’s the reason why we as a nation and globally need to turn to renewable energy sources immediately.
According to the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA), at the end of 2009 the United States ranked fourth when it came to the highest amount of solar powered installed by nation with 1,650MW. Germany came in at first with an astounding 9,875MW, with Spain in second (3,386MW), and Japan rounding out the top three (2,633MW).
If you were to look at reasons why these nations dominated the United States in solar power installed, obviously land area is not a factor. The United States has a total land area almost 8 times larger than Germany, Spain, and Japan combined! Population isn’t a factor either. According to recent data, the United States has an approximate population of 312 million people. Germany (81.7 million), Spain (46 million), and Japan (128 million) have a total combined population less than that of the United States.
What do all three of these nations have in common? A country wide Feed-in Tariff program. Let’s take a look at how much solar potential the United States as a country really has.
US Solar Exposure
Statistically, there is enough sun radiation that hits the Earth every hour to provide enough electricity to power the entire human population’s consumption for the whole year. Talk about a mostly untapped, massive, renewable energy source.
The US consumed approximately 3.724 trillion mWh of electricity in 2009. To put our sun’s potential in comparison, if you took an area in Arizona that had 6 kWh/sq. m/day of solar radiance, an area of only 1,700 square kilometers (656 square miles) gets the equivalent solar radiance in a year as our whole country’s electricity consumption. Due to solar panel inefficiency and the fact that the sun isn’t present around the clock, this doesn’t necessarily mean we can map out a 656 square mile area in Arizona, put a massive solar farm up, and all of a sudden our dependence of fossil fuels goes away. But it does help put in perspective the power capabilities of a free energy source that we have in the sun.
As a followup to our post yesterday on solar policy, imagine what US Solar Future would look like if we implemented a more aggressive, federal, renewable energy policy as other nations in our space have done.