Solar Coach Corner is a weekly column by Arizona SmartPower’s Solar Coach. These posts will go up every Tuesday and are meant to spark conversation about clean energy and energy efficiency topics, so join in by submitting your own comments below!
The media frequently reports that solar energy makes up a small fraction of current U.S. electric power production. That information might lead readers to conclude that solar electricity will remain a small source of electrical energy, but that conclusion would be wildly wrong!
The chart below tells the other side of the story — that the solar industry has witnessed exponential growth over the last decade, promising a future of clean energy generation.
Utility-scale solar plants are about to become common sights across the U.S. The Solar Energy Industries Association recently published the following facts on solar electric power plants in the U.S.:
Total: 31,359 Utility-Scale Solar Electricity Generating Plants in the U.S.
While total production capacity for many of these plants is not yet available, the individual plant capacities vary from 1 megawatt to 5,000 megawatts. The desert Southwest has a large share of these solar plants, but the projects are distributed across 25 states.
Readers might be surprised that Germany is still the country with the most solar energy production, which demonstrates that solar energy is viable, even at high latitudes. That explains why Vermont has four solar plants in the works.
But the decreasing cost of solar is the real key to its increased viability.
Bloomberg reports that the price of solar-grade polysilicon has decreased 93 percent from $475 per kilogram in 2008 to $33 per kilogram in 2011. That dramatic decrease in the price of solar grade polysilicon makes solar electricity more attractive and viable. And contrary to popular opinion, much of that polysilicon is produced in the U.S.
Companies such as MEMC, Wacker, REC and Hemlock have major domestic solar silicon production facilities. Dow Chemical will add to that total with a large polysilicon manufacturing facility in Clarksville, Tennessee, scheduled to open in 2012.
The possibility of seeing utility-scale solar plants near your home becomes more likely every day. Unlike other sources of electric power, solar plants will not pollute the air, land and water, as polysilicon solar electric panels contain no toxic materials and are totally recyclable. I think we’ll soon see people moving from the not-in-my-backyard mentality of past power generation techniques to the please-put-it-in-my-backyard mentality of our future solar power generation.