More Americans Working in Solar Than in Coal

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The coal industry is failing and sustainable alternatives are on the rise. No matter what politicians do to try and “save” coal it’s clear that the dirty source of electricity is on its way out. A recent report revealed that in the USA more people are employed by the solar industry than in the coal industry. Solar only provides 1.3% of America’s electricity yet it is more of a job provider than coal is. If somebody (like the president) wants to create more jobs in the USA than maybe supporting solar is the way to do it.

To put this all in perspective: “Solar employs slightly more workers than natural gas, over twice as many as coal, over three times that of wind energy, and almost five times the number employed in nuclear energy,” the report notes. “Only oil/petroleum has more employment (by 38%) than solar.”

Now, mind you, comparing solar and coal is a bit unfair. Solar is growing fast from a tiny base, which means there’s a lot of installation work to be done right now, whereas no one is building new coal plants in the US anymore. (Quite the contrary: Many older coal plants have been closing in recent years, thanks to stricter air-pollution rules and cheap natural gas.) So solar is in a particularly labor-intensive phase at the moment. Still, it’s worth thinking through what these numbers mean.

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Clean, Renewable Energy Continues Amazing Drop in Costs

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The cost of installing solar energy systems of every type has seen double digit decreases in cost since 2008. This reduction is astonishing because it means that solar becomes competitive with coal (which we’ve already seen) and that arguments against using solar get less powerful every year. There’s also a compounding effect too. The more solar gets supported by institutions that more widespread the technology becomes and the spin of effects of that technology will spur more renewable production. The same is true for other forms of clean energy.

This makes it much clearer that the trends are not “flattening.”
Again, this is no surprise. The International Energy Agency released a whole report on this subject back in 2000, titled, “Experience Curves for Energy Technology Policy.” In it, the IEA explained that accelerated clean energy deployment policies were creating economies of scale and bringing technologies rapidly down the learning curve. As long as those policies continue, the price drops would continue.
And they did continue — with especially large investments by Germany and China. The result is that over the past four decades, for every doubling in scale of the solar industry, the price of solar modules has dropped roughly 26 percent.

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Former Nuclear Disaster Site Could Become Solar Plant

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One of the worst energy disaster in human history was the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster. It has left a giant chunk of land around Pripyat uninhabitable to humans (although the rest of nature has been thriving because humans aren’t there), now the Ukrainian government wants to reuse the land for a new source of electricity. A collection of companies are proposing that the land from the disaster be converted to the world’s largest solar farm!

The development of the 1GWh(!) installation makes a lot of sense considering there is useful land and infrastructure in the area, and Ukraine needs the power.

Because Chernobyl was a site for energy production in its former capacity, transmission lines already exist. “The Chernobyl site has really good potential for renewable energy,” Semerak said. “We already have high-voltage transmission lines that were previously used for the nuclear stations, the land is very cheap and we have many people trained to work at power plants.”

As long as environmental and banking concerns are addressed, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development indicated it would be interested in participating.

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Solar Sales Soaring Sixfold

Bloomberg is reporting that they anticipate a sixfold increase in star capacity thanks to the efficiency of a having a naturally-occuring ball of fire in our solar system. The sun is an abundant resource which shines its rays on us and now we have the industrial means to convert the sun’s rays into a powerful electric resource.

The growth of solar installations over the last decade of furthered their adoption in a positive feedback loop of success. As more places adopt solar the cheaper it becomes and the more incentive there is to make the whole system more efficient.

The “most attractive” markets for solar panels up to 2020 are Brazil, Chile, Israel, Jordan, Mexico, the Philippines, Russia, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, according to Irena. Global capacity could reach 1,760 to 2,500 gigawatts in 2030, compared with 227 gigawatts at the end of 2015, it said.

Smart grids, or power networks capable of handling and distributing electricity from different sources, and new types of storage technologies will encourage further use of solar power, Irena said.

As of 2015, the average cost of electricity from a utility-scale solar photovoltaic system was 13 cents per kilowatt hour. That’s more than coal and gas-fired plants that averaged 5 cents to 10 cents per kilowatt hour, according to Irena. The average cost of building a solar-powered electricity utility could fall to 79 cents per watt in 2025 from $1.80 per watt last year, it said. Coal-fired power generation costs are about $3 per watt while gas plants cost $1 to $1.30 per watt, according to Irena.

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Ontario Converting Coal Plant to Solar Farm

A few years ago Ontario stopped all of its coal powered plants because, you know, climate change and all that. Other jurisdictions around the world are similarly halting the use of coal for energy production. In Ontario, an old coal plant with a lot of land around it will reopen, but be emissions free.

The former coal plant is being converted into a solar farm!

“This project is a great example of how countries are retiring coal plants and replacing them with clean, renewable power plants,” she added.

And while the new 44 MW solar plant will produce a fraction of the enormous output of the former coal plant, the emissions-free energy will contribute to Ontario’s commitment to building a clean economy.

Prior to being idled, the Nanticoke Generating Station was Canada’s top polluter. Coal generation in Ontario is also widely regarded as one of the main culprits behind the province’s smog. Ontario completed its coal phase-out in 2014, and the number of smog days in the province declined from 53 in 2005 to zero in 2015.

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