Earth Day is upon us, and as a result, let's take time to recognize the role that solar energy can plan in helping fight against harmful air pollution in the U.S. and around the world.
Climate change is having a profound impact on the environment, which is having devastating effects on society and residents' wallets. Superstorm Sandy, which wreaked havoc on much of New York City and New Jersey, cost the American economy roughly $65 billion, not to mention the numerous people who were left without power.
Unfortunately, the energy industry is a major contributor to global climate change, with power plants alone producing about 40 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. But fortunately, solar is fast emerging as a major solution, and will likely continue to thrive in the coming years. On April 22, the world will celebrate Earth Day, and continue to make efforts to combat global carbon emissions. Through the proliferation of solar energy deployment, the U.S. and rest of the world can work toward reducing greenhouse gas pollution.
The merits of solar
Solar energy is good for both the environment and the wallet. Because panels use the sun to generate electricity, they produce zero emissions in the generation of electricity, which is a massive improvement over the pollution produced via the combustion of fossil fuels.
But what is even more encouraging is the proliferation of the energy source. The Motley Fool looked at figures from a recent market report, noting that the cost of solar panels has fallen by over 99 percent since 1978, when the first solar panel was sold. Further, the cost of a residential solar installation from the first quarter of 2010 to the fourth quarter of 2013 has fallen by 34 percent.
The falling cost of solar technology has been noted not just in the U.S. but around the world, with about 37 gigawatts of sun-generated electricity installed to date. While this is certainly strong progress, much more needs to be done to protect the earth from the effects of global climate change. Fortunately, there is room for growth.
The Motley Fool reported that there is enough room in the Mojave Desert to account for 600 percent of the U.S. electricity demand, and the space itself only takes up about 0.66 percent of the country's land mass. While such an endeavor would obviously be tough logistically, it speaks to how efficient solar panels already are. In fact, a simple rooftop system can account for an entire home's energy demand and eliminate the need to purchase power from a utility.
Solar receives a legislative boost
Recently, the Earth Day Network, the organization responsible for coordinating worldwide Earth Day efforts, applauded the Environmental Protection Agency in its efforts to limit air pollution from power plants. Recently, a federal appeals court upheld a ruling that will force power plants to limit air pollution.
"Mercury, arsenic, lead and other hazardous pollutants pose a real threat to our families and our communities. And like other environmental hazards, they affect low-income and underserved communities the most," said Earth Day Network President Kathleen Rogers. "Today's ruling is an important step towards protecting the public from these toxins. We welcome this ruling and look forward to its quick and effective implementation."
These improvements bode well for the solar industry, as it may mean that fossil fuel power plants need to invest in technology to reduce these harmful pollutants – something that the solar industry inherently does not need to worry about. This could make sun-generated electricity even more lucrative as it does not have the kind of legislative hurdles with regard to emissions that many power plants do.
With Earth Day upon us, it is important to recognize the merits of solar and the effects it can have on fighting global climate change.