Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

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.

——–

Fish exposed to endocrine-disrupting compounds, like this inland silverside fish, can pass on health problems to future generations. Bill Stagnaro / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 3.0

By Brian Bienkowski

Fish exposed to endocrine-disrupting compounds pass on health problems to future generations, including deformities, reduced survival, and reproductive problems, according to a new study.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern declares victory during the Labor Party Election Night Function at Auckland Town Hall on Oct. 17, 2020 in Auckland, New Zealand. Hannah Peters / Getty Images

Jacinda Ardern, the New Zealand Prime Minister who has emerged as a leader on the climate crisis and the coronavirus pandemic, has won a second term in office.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Poor eating habits, lack of exercise, genetics, and a bunch of other things are known to be behind excessive weight gain. But, did you know that how much sleep you get each night can also determine how much weight you gain or lose?

Read More Show Less
A woman holds a handful of vitamin C. VO IMAGES / Getty Images

By Laura Beil

Consumers have long turned to vitamins and herbs to try to protect themselves from disease. This pandemic is no different — especially with headlines that scream "This supplement could save you from coronavirus."

Read More Show Less
Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Sir David Attenborough look at a piece of ice core from the Antarctic during a naming ceremony for the polar research ship the RSS Sir David Attenborough on Sept. 26, 2019 in Birkenhead, England. Asadour Guzelian - WPA Pool / Getty Images

By Elliot Douglas

In early October, Britain's Prince William teamed up with conservationist David Attenborough to launch the Earthshot Prize, a new award for environmentalist innovation. The Earthshot brands itself the "most prestigious global environment prize in history."

The world-famous wildlife broadcaster and his royal sidekick appear to have played an active role in the prize's inception, and media coverage has focused largely on them as the faces of the campaign.

But the pair are only the frontmen of a much larger movement which has been in development for several years. In addition to a panel of experts who will decide on the winners, the prize's formation took advice from the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and the Jack Ma Foundation.

With more and more global attention on the climate crisis, celebrity endorsement of environmental causes has become more common. But why do environmental causes recruit famous faces for their campaigns? And what difference can it make?

'Count Me In'

"We need celebrities to reach those people who we cannot reach ourselves," says Sarah Marchildon from the United Nations Climate Change secretariat (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany.

Marchildon is a proponent of the use of celebrities to raise awareness of environmental causes. In addition to promoting a selection of climate ambassadors who represent the UN on sustainability issues, Marchildon's team has produced videos with well-known narrators from the entertainment world: among them, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," Marchildon explains.

"Sometimes they reach out to us themselves, as David Attenborough did recently. And then they can promote the videos on their own social channels which reach more people than we do — for example, if they have 20 million followers and we have 750,000."

Environmental groups focused on their own domestic markets are also taking this approach. One Germany-based organization that uses celebrities in campaigns is the German Zero NGO. Set up in 2019, it advocates for a climate-neutral Germany by 2035.

German Zero produced a video in March 2020 introducing the campaign with "66 celebrities" that supported the campaign, among them Deutschland 83 actor Jonas Nay and former professional footballer Andre Schürrle. They solicit support as well as financial contributions from viewers.

"Count me in," they say, pointing toward the camera. "You too?"

"We are incredibly grateful for the VIPs in our videos," says German Zero spokeswoman Eva-Maria McCormack.

Assessing Success Is Complex

But quantifying the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement of campaigns is not a straightforward process.

"In order to measure effectiveness, first of all you need to define what is meant by success," says Alegria Olmedo, a researcher at the Zoology Department at the University of Oxford.

Olmedo is the author of a study looking at a range of campaigns concerning pangolin consumption, fronted by local and Western celebrities, in Vietnam and China. But she says her biggest stumbling block was knowing how to measure a campaign's success.

"You need a clear theory of change," explains Olmedo. "Have the celebrities actually helped in achieving the campaign's goals? And how do you quantify these goals? Maybe it is increased donations or higher engagement with a cause."

A popular campaign in China in recent years saw famous chefs Zhao Danian and Shu Yi pledge to abstain from cooking endangered wildlife. While the pledge achieved widespread recognition, both Olmedo and Marchildon say it's difficult to know whether it made any difference to people's actions.

"In life we see a thousand messages every day, and it is very hard to pinpoint whether one campaign has actually made a difference in people's behavior," she explains.

Awareness Is Not Enough

Many campaigns that feature celebrities focus on raising awareness rather than on concrete action — which, for researcher Olmedo, raises a further problem in identifying effectiveness.

"Reach should never be a success outcome," she says. "Many campaigns say they reached a certain number of people on social media. But there has been a lot of research that shows that simply giving people information does not mean they are actually going to remember it or act upon it."

But anecdotal evidence from campaigns may suggest reach can make an active difference.

"Our VIP video is by far the most watched on our social media channels," McCormack from German Zero says. "People respond to it very directly. A lot of volunteers of all ages heard about us through that video."

However, some marketing studies have shown that celebrity endorsement of a cause or product can distract from the issue itself, as people only remember the person, not the content of what they were saying.

Choosing the Right Celebrity

Celebrity choice is also very important. Campaigns that use famous faces are often aiming to appeal to members of the public who do not necessarily follow green issues.

For certain campaigns with clear target audiences, choosing a climate scientist or well-known environmentalist rather than a celebrity could be more appealing — Attenborough is a classic example. For others, images and videos involving cute animals may be more likely to get a message heard than attaching a famous face.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," says Marchildon from the UN. "You need figures with credibility."

McCormack cites the example of Katharine Hayhoe, an environmental scientist who is also an evangelical Christian. In the southern United States, Hayhoe has become a celebrity in her own right, appealing to an audience that might not normally be interested in the messages of climate scientists.

But as soon as you get a celebrity involved, campaigns also put themselves at risk of the whims of that celebrity. Prince William and younger members of the royal family have come under fire in recent years for alleged hypocrisy for their backing of environmental campaigns while simultaneously using private jets to fly around the world.

But Does It Really Work?

While environmental campaigns hope that endorsement from well-known figures can boost a campaign, there is little research to back this up.

"The biggest finding [from my study] was that we were unable to produce any evidence that shows that celebrity endorsement of environmental causes makes any difference," says Olmedo.

This will come as a blow to many campaigns that have invested time and effort into relationships with celebrity ambassadors. But for many, the personal message that many celebrities offer in videos like that produced by German Zero and campaigns like the Earthshot Prize are what counts.

The research may not prove this conclusively — but if the public believes a person they respect deeply personally cares about an important issue, they are perhaps more likely to care too.

"I personally believe in the power this can have," says Marchildon. "And if having a celebrity involved can get a single 16-year-old future leader thinking about environmentalist issues — that is enough."

Reposted with permission from DW.

Support Ecowatch