Here Comes the Sun

In the solar-energy research community, it’s well recognized that the energy that flows from the sun to the earth is vast and rich with potential value that we have not yet figured out how to fully access. One hour of sunlight on earth is apparently enough to power all human needs for a year (as this Wall Street Journal article suggests). But so far we either can’t, or won’t, or don’t quite know how to let this inexpensive and endlessly renewable power source flood our grids and our national economies. We’re often faced with a simple question: Why not?

The answer is complicated of course, but the first piece comes with a bit of promising news: in 2018, obstacles to the use of solar energy are not as steep as most of us imagine. This resource is taking up dramatically larger percentage of our energy flow every year, and technologies and forms of solar energy distribution that seemed impossible just a decade ago are now making their way into the mainstream. But there are still some dams that need to be systematically, politically, or structurally broken before solar power can flood forth and fully replace fossil fuels in our daily lives.

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 For a full and comprehensive overview of the near future (“near” meaning up to the year 2050), we offer this multidisciplinary report produced by the MIT Energy Initiative.

The report is long, but it’s worth a look. Here are some of the key takeaways:

1.       Before we fully access solar energy and make the most of its benefits, solar technologies must become cost competitive with fossil fuels (we’re getting there), fossil fuel carbon emissions must be penalized, and both of these things should eventually be accomplished without relying too heavily on government subsidies.

2.       These efforts are taking place on two different fronts (through the application of two different solar technologies): Grid-connected electricity generation by photovoltaic cells, and concentrated solar power systems, also called “solar thermal”. These two differ vastly in both the size and scale of their installation and their respective sets of benefits and drawbacks. Read the executive summary for a quick overview of the differences between the two.

3.       While solar energy from both sources will hold its own after gaining a foothold in the marketplace, government support will be vital as we work to overcome the obstacles that stand between our current state and the ultimate goal of an economically secure solar future. Pricing controls and legal penalties for carbon output will be an essential part of the process.

Read the report to learn more! If you have questions or you’d like to get involved with legal efforts to combat climate change, contact our team.