Even without covering the plethora of reasons that vouch for immediate renewable energy (especially solar) implementation as the mainstream energy source, we can build a case on the inarguable fact that ‘fossil fuels are non-renewable’. And since mankind has only begun building towards a perfect, sustainable, and progressive society, being dependent on an energy source that is limited (fossil fuel depletion predictions range from 50 to less than 150 years), doesn’t seem a smart choice!
That sums up as a short and easy rationale behind the incredible solar growth in recent years. However, a closer inspection would clearly identify the primary drivers behind such growth.
With every gallon of gasoline burned, there is one less gallon to go around. Same as any other fossil fuel type. Besides being dangerously damaging to the environment, these energy sources are limited, nearing depletion.
On the other hand, solar energy will last for the next 4 or 5 billion years, which clearly makes it more dependable than the traditional energy sources. And although the World is still using fossil fuels to get more than 68% of energy (41% coal, 21% gas, 5.5% oil) worldwide, the growing solar PV market paints a vivid win for the solar energy segment. Media reports highlight, around 70 gigawatts solar capacity was installed in 2016 alone, which clearly indicates the world’s latest preference in energy sources. Emerging PV markets in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia, continue to add winning points for solar against fossil fuels.
For decades, we have avoided the damages inflicted upon the environment by fossil fuel usage. Even extraction and transportation of fossil fuels can damage the environment. However, it is the combustion process that produces most of the toxins including CO2. And currently, fossil fuels produce 21.3 billion tonnes of CO2 each year, leading the global daily CO2 emission levels at 406.47 ppm (parts per million).
This has made life-supporting attributes in our environment volatile. And considering the increasing worldwide population (estimated to be 7.5 billion in 2017, 1.11% growth rate), it is fairly easy to understand how quickly our world will encounter extinction level events, if we continue to use fossil fuels.
Fortunately, more and more green energy usage can reduce carbon emissions. Every kilowatt of green energy can reduce your carbon footprint by 3,000 pounds annually, which is practically, the most feasible and easiest way of restoring our environment. Understanding the scenario, the world has resorted to solar energy implementation. The results are highlighted in the media reports showing that approximately 500,000 solar panels were installed everyday world wide in 2015.
Over the last three decades, we have witnessed a sharp fall in cost of solar panels. From $75/watt (nearly 35 years ago), at 2017, solar panels cost at around $0.38-$0.42/watt. On the other hand, fossil fuel cost has risen consistently, showing a 13 per cent rise in coal cost since 2008. Solar tariff has also seen meteoric drop in last few years, for example, in India the prices reached INR 2.97/ $ 0.05 per unit. Such advancements have helped various markets in developing countries, to become energy rich. For example, low costing solar has helped countries like Bangladesh and Mongolia to utilize small-scale solar power for homes.
Sure, solar is now relying on Government subsidies, but as soon as the solar panel costs reach approximately $0.25/watt within 2020, subsidies will not be needed to support this sector anymore. Currently, more than 30 countries have already reached grid parity without subsidies, and after 2020, the number is assured to grow much higher. Moreover, while we are discussing about subsidies, we need to mention that fossil fuels are now extracting more subsidies than that of renewables ($409 billion vs. $60 billion globally, in 2013).
Additionally, fossil fuel plants need to consume energy to produce energy, which means they eat up a part of their yield day after day… However, while upfront cost of solar plants is high, since solar plants do not burn electricity to generate energy; in the long run, the cost of solar plants is lower than that of conventional energy. Obviously, being cost effective has helped solar to achieve a win over fossil fuels.
Year 2016 has witnessed a huge unemployment rate, standing at 197.7 million people globally, 38.6 million in developed countries, and 143.4 million in emerging countries. Hence, the solar energy sector, coming up as a massive job creator, has certainly given the sector the global acceptance it is enjoying over fossil fuels.
In the USA, solar energy is creating 13.7 jobs per million dollars spent, surpassing fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) which creates 12.1 jobs per million dollars spent. In India, more than 1,017,800 jobs are expected to be created within 2022. Brazil expects a boost of 60,000 to 90,000 new jobs in renewable sector by 2018. +1.25 million economy-wide renewable energy jobs will be available in the European Union by 2030. Mexico expects to have +134,000 jobs in renewable energy sector, while United Kingdom is preparing for +70,000 net employment in green energy by 2030.
Along with the employment boost, the increase in renewable (especially solar) energy usage worldwide, will definitely improve global welfare by almost 2.7 per cent. And it seems that these numbers are driving the global preference of a quick shift towards green energy.
Huge investments are one of the primary reason behind the recent wining streak of solar over fossil fuels. In the year 2016, approximately $286bn was spent on renewable (majorly solar) energy. On the other hand, fossil fuel industry has only $130bn global investment to its name. This clearly indicates that world is quickly shifting from conventional energy to solar energy, convinced by the benefits it offers.
And developing countries betting big on solar energy indicates that emerging countries have selected solar as their champion as it promises to rid them of the widening energy deficit, and far reaching fossil fuel prices. Within 2016, Mexico had spent $4 bn, Chile $3.4 bn, Brazil $7.1 bn, South Africa $4.5 bn, India $10 bn, and Honduras, Morocco, Philippines, and Uruguay mutually add up to $500 million investment for renewable energy. This growth is expected to lead renewable energy sources (especially solar) to produce 42 percent of the global energy capacity by 2021.
Therefore, we can clearly identify that solar energy has huge positive impacts in almost every important part of our socio-economic structure. The green energy shift proposes a new bright future, without curbing our growing needs. And that’s what provides Solar power the edge over fossil fuels.