Getting there may be ugly, we will undoubtedly experience more energy shortages as we delay investing in our future until the combination of fuel shortages and environmental ruin force our hands, but I am optimistic we will make the transition.
Solar panel production has reached a critical point where the economies of scale have brought costs down to where solar is economically competitive with conventional energy sources. In 2013, 36 Gigawatts of new solar energy was installed. In 2014 that number is projected to be between 45 and 49 Gigawatts.
The image below is taken from NASA’s Earth Observatory. It illustrates what happens when we depend upon fossil fuels, especially coal, for our energy needs.
This is not the future I want, but if we don’t ramp up renewable capacity to displace fossil fuels, this is the future we’ll be getting.
I’m not suggesting solar should be the only source in the mix, I think we have lots of clean options, wind, liquid-salt nuclear reactors that can burn the transuranics in existing nuclear waste, hydrogen fusion, Geo-thermal, but solar has reached the point where it is economically competitive with conventional sources, and that gives me cause for optimism.
Solar has the additional advantage that solar output tends to track grid demand fairly well, especially in southern states, and it can be installed anywhere, close to where demand and transmission facilities exist. Wind is often cheaper to produce but the best wind resources, in the US that would be in the Midwest states, rarely coincides with where demand or transmission facilities exist, and wind tends not to track demand. That may change somewhat as more electric vehicles hit the roads.