Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

5 Reasons Solar is Beating Fossil Fuels

Energy
5 Reasons Solar is Beating Fossil Fuels

Jacob Sandry

The solar industry is growing drastically every year, while fossil fuels continue to be phased out. This is why it's frustrating to hear people say that renewable energy is not ready to compete with fossil fuels as a means to power our country. Here are five reasons why solar is already winning. 

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

1. Jobs

There are more people in the U.S. employed in the solar energy marketplace than mining coal. The banal argument that transitioning to a clean energy economy will cost us jobs is simply false. Solar is growing more than 10 times faster than the American economy.

Solar already employs more than coal, and that gap is widening. In 2012, solar added 14,000 new jobs, up 36 percent from 2010 and the industry will add another 20,000 jobs this year. The fossil fuels industry cut 4,000 jobs last year. So when it comes to employing Americans, solar is winning.

2. Price

Solar panels have a seen a consistent drop in prices over the last three decades, and in the last few years that drop has been meteoric. In the last 35 years prices have gone from $75/watt to around $.75/watt. Since 2008, the cost of coal has risen 13 percent. In some parts of the market, solar has already reached parity with coal.

I’m sure you’ve heard the argument that solar is economically effective only by relying on government subsidies. Currently this may be true, but if solar prices reach Citigroup’s prediction of  $.25/watt by 2020, subsidies may not be needed. And then there’s the glaring fact that oil, gas and coal receive subsidies that dwarf those of renewables ($409 billion vs. $60 billion globally).

And that’s ignoring the extra costs that burning fossil fuels impose on the rest of society, that aren’t paid by fossil fuel companies (called externalities by economists). The Harvard Medical School estimates that burning coal in the U.S. costs $500 billion in environmental and health damage (and then there’s, you know, the whole climate change thing). If those costs were taxed onto coal plants, the price of coal would more than double.

3. Capacity

With the cost of solar dropping rapidly, installations are escalating at an exciting rate.

Earlier this year, the U.S. became the fourth country to have 10 gigawatts of solar energy capacity, with installations increasing at a rate of 50 percent annually for the last five years, that rate is expected to increase to 80 percent this year.

Two-thirds of global solar capacity has been installed over the last two years. In contrast, 175 coal fired power plants in the U.S. are expected to be shut down over the next five years (more than 10 percent of total capacity). This reflects the rising costs of coal and the implementation of stricter environmental regulations.

4. Investment

While fossil fuels have been an omnipresent part of investment portfolios for decades, their reign may be coming to an end.

Recently a number of reports have shed light on an impending carbon bubble. Fossil fuel companies are valued in the market based on their reserves of unburned fuel still in the ground. If international regulations are put in place to prevent atmospheric carbon dioxide levels from rising above 450 ppm (the estimated cap to avoid irreversible climate change), much of the listed reserves couldn’t be used.

This means that many fossil fuel companies are overvalued as they potentially have huge unburnable reserves of fuel. British bank HSBC estimates that once stricter climate regulations are put in place, the value of fossil fuel companies may fall drastically. Already, coal companies have dropped in value 75 percent over the last five years. 

Firms like Mercer and WHEB are advising investors to move their investments out of coal and oil and into renewables. Major investors are already making this move. Warren Buffett has invested in one of the largest solar farms in the world and has predicted the end of coal as an American power source.

5. Environmental Impact

Environmental impact should be pretty clear, but here are some interesting impacts of coal extraction and burning that you may not be aware of:

  • acid mine drainage and coal sludge pollutes rivers and streams
  • air pollution causes acid rain, smog, respiratory illnesses, cancers and toxins in the environment
  • coal dust from mining causes respiratory illness
  • coal fires in abandoned mines put tons of mercury into the atmosphere every year and account for three percent of global carbon dioxide emissions
  • coal combustion waste is the second largest contributor to landfills after solid waste
  • mountaintop removal coal mining causes flooding, destruction of entire ecosystems and communities, and the release of greenhouse gases
  • emissions of 381,740,601 lbs of toxic carbon dioxide, methane, sulfur dioxide, mercury, radioactive materials and particulate matter annually
  • enormous contributor to global climate change

Jacob Sandry is a fellow at Mosaic, a company connecting investors to high quality solar project.

Visit EcoWatch’s RENEWABLES page for more related news on this topic.

——–

Alex Wong / Getty Images

By Jacob Carter

On Wednesday, the Department of the Interior (DOI) announced that it will be rescinding secretarial order 3369, which sidelined scientific research and its use in the agency's decisions. Put in place by the previous administration, the secretarial order restricted decisionmakers at the DOI from using scientific studies that did not make all data publicly available.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Producing avocado and almond crops is having a detrimental effect on bees. Molly Aaker / Getty Images

At first glance, you wouldn't think avocados and almonds could harm bees; but a closer look at how these popular crops are produced reveals their potentially detrimental effect on pollinators.

Read More Show Less

Trending

An electric vehicle is plugged in to an EV charging station at a Walmart parking lot in Duarte, California on Sept. 14, 2018. FREDERIC J. BROWN / AFP via Getty Images

Six major U.S. electricity utilities will collaborate to build a massive EV charging network across 16 states, they announced Tuesday.

Read More Show Less
Matthew Micah Wright / The Image Bank / Getty Images

By Deborah Moore, Michael Simon and Darryl Knudsen

There's some good news amidst the grim global pandemic: At long last, the world's largest dam removal is finally happening.

Read More Show Less
Scrap metal is loaded into a shredder at a metal recycling facility on July 17, 2008 in Chicago, Illinois. Scott Olson / Getty Images

Hunger strikers in Chicago are fighting the relocation of a metal shredding facility from a white North Side neighborhood to a predominantly Black and Latinx community on the Southeast Side already plagued by numerous polluting industries.

Read More Show Less