The immediate future of solar power and other alternative energy sources lies in the hands of citizens and private industry.
For all the enthusiasm for renewable energy sources, we can’t count on our utilities to rely on them for the generation of electricity any time soon.
That means, unfortunately, that electric cars are little greener than gasoline-burning cars. After all, nearly half of it comes from burning coal.
According to official government statistics, in 2007 (the latest year for which final statistics are available–link no longer works as of February 2017), American utilities generated 4156.7 billion KWH of electricity.
Of that, almost 72% came from fossil fuels, 48.5% from coal alone. Nuclear power produced 19.4% of our electricity and renewable fuels only 8.49%. Of the 352.7 billion KWH produced from renewable sources, 247.5 billion came from hydroelectric power. That leaves only 2.53% of all electricity from such renewable sources as biomass (including incineration of garbage), geothermal, wind, and solar.
Utility companies are in a regulatory bind. Jim Rogers, the environmentally concerned CEO of Duke Power, would at least like to stop buying coal mined by destroying mountaintops. Unfortunately, state laws require it to supply electricity at the lowest possible price. As long as mountaintop mining remains legal, mountaintop coal will be the cheapest.
I have already mentioned Duke Power’s partnerships with other businesses to build multiple small sites for building solar farms. Land provided by Thomas Built Buses will produce 389 KW. It certainly appears that except out west, it will be easier to generate solar power from lots of small sites than a few large ones. I have also mentioned a hotel in Greensboro built to LEED platinum standards that generates its own solar power.
It appears that, at least in the short term, people who want to uses solar power can’t wait for the utilities to supply it for them. Businesses and households need to follow the lead of that new hotel and go at least partially off the grid on their own.
If installing a whole-house is not feasible, solar-powered outdoor lighting, attic ventilation, etc. can make a dent in reliance on the utilities. Perhaps people who buy electric cars can make a real contribution to the environment by installing at least enough solar panels to recharge the car.
Photo credit: Some rights reserved by bill85704