The Energy Information Administration recently announced that the United States’ solar capacity has increased by 418 percent — from 2,326 to 12,057 megawatts — since 2010. This translates to more than 12 gigawatts, which is enough to power nearly 2.2 million typical American homes.
This is encouraging news, especially in light of the fact that solar energy currently accounts for only about 2 percent of the country’s electric power.
While the U.S. has been relatively slow to adopt solar technology, European countries are beginning to feel the benefits of investing in it.
Germany, Italy and Spain have all recently reached complete grid parity, which occurs when any alternative energy source generates electricity at a cost matching the price of power from the electric grid.
In the U.S., adopters of solar technology are benefiting under utility net metering programs, which allow owners to sell excess electricity back to their local utility at retail rates.
The rise in solar energy comes at the same time as nuclear energy’s decline.
Plans for nine new nuclear reactors were canceled in 2013. This may be because the price to build a nuclear reactor has increased nearly tenfold — from $2 billion in 2002 to as high as $12 billion today.
Although solar energy systems used to come with hefty price tags, the cost of solar panels has dropped by more than 75 percent since 2008.
Additionally, incidents like the Fukushima disaster of 2011 have demonstrated that although nuclear energy burns cleanly and efficiently, it is also unstable and should not be a viable option for our future energy needs.
Solar energy has a long way to go and likely will never replace the nonrenewable energy infrastructures we have heavily relied on for decades.
However, what solar and other forms of renewable energy can do is give us a safe and clean path for all our future investments in energy.