The newest report by Environment America, Building a Solar Future: Repowering America’s Homes, Businesses and Industry with Solar Energy, states that the United States could get a full ten percent of its total energy consumption needs from solar power by 2030 by using a number of newer technologies that convert solar energy to usable mediums.
These solar technologies include solar photovoltaics, or PV; concentrating solar power (CSP); solar thermal hot water; solar space heating; and passive solar capture (for heating, lighting and cooling).
The uses for solar PV alone run the gamut from residential electricity production to crop drying, and include conversion technologies that allow PV technology to deliver both hot water and space heating, or cooling, via combination chillers.
In homes, solar photovoltaic panels could provide electricity while solar thermal delivers hot water. Adding passive solar design via skylights and well-placed, thermally efficient windows provides lighting and winter heating while also avoiding summer heat.
In commercial buildings, the combined use of solar PV and solar thermal also delivers electricity to run lighting and hot water for restrooms, cooking, and cleaning.
In factories, solar heating systems can provide all or part of the energy needed to create product. For example, in Kanjari, Pakistan, solar flat plate collectors and an insulated tank provide pre-heated boiler feed water for the cattle feed production line. The technology could easily translate to U.S. animal feed production facilities, including pet food production.
In transportation, solar PV allows EVs or hybrid vehicles to escape the need for recharging via the grid. In public transportation, solar power on buses enables operators to avoid pollution standards while idling. Eventually, solar-powered road grids may deliver public transportation vehicles that never need a drop of fuel or a plug-in recharging station.
Whether used in farming, to provide irrigation, or in communities to clean wastewater and pump clean water, solar energy technologies could not only rescue the nation from the need for foreign oil, but reduce the greenhouse gases implicated in climate change.
And, while eminently good news for America, the report is merely the icing on the cake present by a 2008 report (also by Environment America), which showed that the United States could meet all of its current electricity needs with a patch of concentrating solar thermal (CSP) plants 100 miles square.
The report, On the Rise: Solar Thermal Power and the Fight Against Global Warming, notes that this 100-mile-square area is only slightly more than all the land already excavated in the American Southwest for strip-mining coal.
Additionally, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, or NREL, the nation’s premier entity engaged in renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development, says that solar power on southwestern US lands could provide more than 7,000 gigawatts of electricity per year.
Some of the math appears to be shaky, notably the description of 7,000 gigawatts as “more than six times current U.S. electricity consumption” (that figure is actually 3,892 gigawatts), but the concept is astonishing. Essentially we could power the entire country’s electricity grid with land standing idle in Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and California.
This, incidentally, includes privately-owned and federal land that has not been designated critical habitat, either because it is already in use or has been used and abandoned without gaining designation.