For years and years solar power was the kid brother to fossil fuels when it came to electricity production in the USA. And why shouldn’t it have been? As fossil fuels flowed in vigorously to the USA from all over the world scientists and engineers struggled to make efficient solar panels that were even partly cost effective. Real gains in solar energy remained more of a hobby and wishful thinking than a viable means of electrical energy production.  

But 20 – 30 years ago that all began to change as photovoltaic solar cell technology improved and the prices of solar panels came down too. The numbers of megawatts being produced from solar energy suddenly skyrocketed and that upward trend continues to this day. How much so has it changed? Based on a UC Irvine study, one of their professors believes that solar and wind technology can one day in the not too distant future account for 80% of America’s electricity needs. 

Look out now fossil fuels. It seems like your little brother and his friend are growing up fast and may take your place in the energy food chain soon. 

UC Irvine’s Energy Study 

What gives UC Irvine Professor Steven Davis, Associate Professor of Earth System Science, and his team the right to make such an assumption? It’s based on some figures of a recent study that they did. 

In order to get an accurate assessment of the potential percentage of electricity that can be generated in the USA from solar and wind the researchers at UC Irvine had to look at tons of data. They actually looked at 36 years’ worth of such data as weather records, wind charts and more. In theory the longer period of time their data was derived from the more accurate their results would be. 

There was a small catch here too. In order to hit the 80% total electrical energy production figure in the USA for wind and coal a few assumptions had to be made. One was that USA utilities would build the necessary facilities to store up to 12 hours of America’s electrical energy needs. Given the current electrical storage technology today this figure was neither impossible to achieve or unreasonably cost prohibitive.  

UC Irvine’s researches are not the only science authority that believes this 80% total electricity production from solar and wind power is feasible either. Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution for Science also believes the 80% wind and solar power electrical generation could be achieved. But he also added that it’s more likely to hit an 80% fossil fuel free electrical energy percentage if other low carbon emission electricity producing sources such as nuclear and hydroelectric power were added into the mix. 

Worth Keeping an Eye On 

It will be very interesting to see how this all plays out over the coming months and years. As solar and wind produced electricity continue to make big gains you still can’t count out fossil fuels from staying big sources of electricity production. Coal is most likely not going anyplace anytime soon and natural gas and petroleum companies still wield a lot of political clout. There are definitely some fossil fuel related companies that will push back against solar and wind power electricity production growth. 

The great thing about this UC Irvine study is it shows that an 80% total electrical production percentage for wind and solar power is not that farfetched if the American public demands and funds it. 

 

Sources: 

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/02/180227111639.htm 

https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/index.cfm?page=electricity_in_the_united_states 

 

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