Solar Power Is Growing By Leaps and Bounds

Scientists tell us our sun will shine for another 5 billion years or so. Then it will start expanding into a red giant that will engulf Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars.

We’re all glad we won’t be around for that particular event. It doesn’t sound too pleasant.

But in the meantime, our sun provides the light we need during the day. It also keeps us warm and allows our crops to grow.

Of course, the sun can do a lot more than keep us alive. We’re learning more every day about how to harness its power.

Lots More Gigawatts

Over the past 10 years, solar energy has added more capacity globally than any other form of power. Coal is second, wind third, gas fourth and water fifth.

They measure this growth in gigawatts. A total of 25 gigawatts of global capacity was measured in 2009. That’s compared to 663 gigawatts by the end of 2019.

This boost came from $2.6 trillion being poured into clean energy. Renewables now account for about 13 percent of the world’s electricity.

The result in 2018 was that 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions were eliminated.

Solar More Economical Than Coal

Back in 2001, the U.S. Department of Energy made a prediction. They forecast that solar energy would become competitive with traditional power sources.

They didn’t say when they thought this would occur. But everyone was surprised when the cost of electricity for solar dropped 81 percent over the past 10 years.

Installing wind and solar in the U.S. has become cheaper than maintaining coal plants in most cases.

And it’s not just in America. Solar energy in China has now reached parity with the price of grid energy.

Rooftop Panels Soak in the Rays

So, what has helped solar energy grow so much in recent years? You’ve seen the answer to that question on rooftops of homes and businesses.

Solar panels have allowed the industry to grow significantly. Of all the new power capacity that was added to the electrical grid in 2018, 30 percent was from solar.

As with everything, nothing is perfect. We can’t make the sun shine all the time. And storage solutions such as lithium-ion batteries are still hard on the wallet.

But the advances have been encouraging. And solar power is poised to become the unquestioned leader in energy production.

Oil Giant Got in on Ground Floor

Oil giants have gotten a bad name through the years due to pollution, oil spills and other environmental problems. But they were actually instrumental in launching the solar industry that exists today.

Exxon Mobil is an example. The corporation had $20.8 billion in earnings in 2018. But they believed they could increase their flexibility by getting involved in solar.

So, late last year Exxon Mobil entered a 12-year agreement with Orsted, an energy company based in Denmark. It involves the purchase of wind and solar power.

They plan to use clean, cheap electricity to power their operations in the Permian Basin. The basin is located in western Texas and southeastern New Mexico. That’s where one of the most productive oil fields in the world exists.

Most likely, other oil businesses will follow this path. Especially if they see Exxon Mobil saving funds.

Seeking Diversification

In a way, this is a story that goes back six decades. That’s when there were concerns about the availability of oil.

There were increasing demands for oil in the U.S. And threats by oil-producing nations to cut it off. This had the media talking about an energy crisis.

And that’s when Exxon executives and other groups started to talk about diversifying.

Among the different ways they discussed to generate money were office machinery and word processing. Another was solar panels.

Space Program Led the Way

Solar cells were already being used in space. A solar-powered transmitter was launched aboard the Vanguard 1 satellite in 1958.

The folks at Exxon thought solar could be used just as effectively on Earth. But the toll of manufacturing silicon was out of this world.

Solar cells sent into space exhausted over $100 per watt. Exxon’s goal was to bring that down to $10 per watt.

Those actions helped then. And they’re still helping today. Today, it’s currently less than 50 cents per watt.

The Price Is Right

Exxon got the price they wanted from the space program’s solar cell manufacturers ($10 per watt). They then used $100,000 for them.

In 1973, Exxon founded the Solar Power Corporation. Their main item was a solar panel consisting of five silicon wafers on a circuit board. The board was encased in silicon rubber.

The panels were purchased for use on oil platforms and mountaintop telecommunications stations.

Plus recreational boats and rural villages where solar energy was used to pump water.

The Sun Isn’t Going Anywhere

An oil surplus in the 1980s ended the energy crisis. As a result, oil companies became less interested in solar energy.

Solar Power Corporation closed down. And a competitor, ARCO Solar, was sold to a Germany company.

But oil companies are once again exploring clean energy. So far the return is not as strong as it is for oil. But the gap might close.

In the meantime, we’re going to see more and more solar panels on rooftops and in deserts. Business strategies come and go. But the sun isn’t going anywhere for 5 billion years.

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