When it comes to energy policy, if you only follow mainstream United States media, you may come away with a highly polarized view and a very incomplete story.
You may be left with the impression that renewable energy is an all-or-nothing proposition.
You might believe we are all still running on 100% fossil fuels, forever hostage to the oil and coal industry. You might also think that alternative energy is this far-off, futurist goal that will never be practical to attain.
The truth is, our world is adapting to alternative forms of energy like wind and solar power more every day. Far from our expectations of a great upheaval of infrastructure, the change is almost invisible.
Renewable energy stories are simply under-reported, possibly because stories about dams, windmills, and solar farms don’t make for exciting headlines. To be fair, we don’t have many “slow news days” in the 21st century.
Here’s just a few recent stories of alternative energy you might have missed:
Alternative Energy Powers 12% of the United States
According to the US Energy Information Administration, in 2021, renewable energy accounted for 12.2% of total US energy consumption and a whopping 20% of all electric power. That’s about a fifth of all the electric energy consumed, effectively reducing the carbon footprint of the US to around 85% of where it would be. Furthermore, 2.8% of that renewable energy was provided by solar power alone. That sounds like a relatively small percentage, but consider that the US ranks #2 worldwide for energy consumption (China is at #1), and then this 2.8% solar power still represents a sizable contribution to our energy usage.
So that’s the first thing we should keep in mind when discussing North American energy policy going forward. We are deploying it on the ground right now. While climate activists would hope we were progressing faster, it’s still better than no progress at all.
Solar Power Car Parks Are Catching On
One of the benefits of solar power is that it’s very unobtrusive, especially within urban infrastructure. All you need is some flat surface with an unobstructed view of the sky, and you have a dandy place to install solar panels. Solar power car parks are a clever way to reclaim some of the endless asphalt we cede to the almighty automobile, by tiling the overhang shelter with solar energy panels. These are popping up all over the world including Rutgers University in Piscataway, New Jersey, which is home to a solar power car park that produces 8 MW (megawatts) of electricity.
Other deployments include the Orlando, Florida, area with a 2.3 MW carport project, and as you can see in the time-lapse video below, it only takes about a month to install.
Retail giant IKEA has also deployed a solar-power carport at its store location in Baltimore, Maryland, and has plans to deploy them at stores nationwide – after seeing a 57% energy savings at the first location.
The initial cost of installing solar panels is easily offset when you can literally snip your electric bill in half afterwards, year after year.
Solar Powered Cars Are on the Road Now
As we mentioned above, China is the world’s #1 consumer of energy, recently overtaking the US. A team in China has developed a prototype of China’s first solar EV (solar-powered electric vehicle). As a matter of fact, China is late to the game on this one; a Dutch startup called Lightyear has launched a market-ready solar EV – granted, at an extreme price tag for a car. And that is not even the beginning of the solar-powered car story, since the World Solar Challenge is a competitive event where solar-powered cars race in Australia, with the first event taking place in 1987!
Are you tired of high gas prices at the pump? So is everyone, if we read social media correctly, especially when factors like war and other disasters cause the price to skyrocket. Figure out your gas budget for the year, and the price tag on any solar EV starts to look better. Granted, the technology is still too immature to trust to, say, interstate commerce. But most of us only use a car for short trips in town, where a solar EV is more than adequate.
The Top Five Solar-Power Countries Produce Over 500 GW
Again, that figure is a drop in the bucket compared to global energy usage. But these numbers still represent a significant contribution for this still-young technology. The total GW (gigawatt) capacity of solar power produced by the top five countries to use solar power:
- China : 253.4 GW
- USA : 93.2 GW
- Japan: 71.4 GW
- Germany : 53.9 GW
- India : 47.4 GW
Putting up a total of just over 500 GWs of power from solar panels alone. China, especially, is impressively devoted to green energy, with President Jinping setting a goal of carbon neutrality by the year 2060. That goal, a mere forty years from this writing, is a lot more realistic than we would have thought only a decade ago.
Alternative Energy is Making Fast Progress
The biggest take-away we would like our audience to have is that solar power, along with other forms of alternative energy, has developed considerably and is now a common source of energy generation around the world. These stories tend to get left by the wayside, because the far more urgent news is how bad our global climate is doing and how little time left we have to correct it. And while the situation is still a global climate emergency, we are doing something about it.
Keep in mind that we would have likely been far ahead of where we are right now in development, had alternative energy policy been taken more seriously decades ago. Progress is not always smooth – the chief factors holding renewable energy back range from economics to material scarcity to, well, those stinking politics.
One thing worth noting is that the motivation to switch to renewable energy is not always an altruistic, environmental one. Solar power has become “the cheapest electricity in history.” Advocates and activists, take note: You can now sell the world on “green energy” without even mentioning the environmental part. Consumers will see the benefit in their wallet right away.