The sun is the most abundant form of energy that is easily accessible to us. It is also the ultimate source of energy, as every other known source of energy is either directly or indirectly derived from the sun. The total energy from the sun that hits the Earth’s surface every hour is roughly equivalent to our annual energy consumption, and thus, the sun is the best possible solution we have to meet our planet’s energy requirement.
It wasn’t until recently that the energy of the sun became economically feasible to harness. The basic technology has existed for decades. However, it is only in the 21st century that this technology has become economically viable. Since then, solar power has constantly increased its share in the global energy mix.
This push towards solar is fueled by the following benefits:
The biggest factor behind the push towards solar power, especially in developing countries like India and China, is the fact that solar power is much cheaper as compared to thermal power.
Over the last 10 years, the cost of a solar system has fallen more than 80%. This has largely been driven by the falling price of solar modules fueled by higher scale production in China. With solar now being cheaper than the grid, businesses, and governments that spend heavily on power see it as a better solution to meet their power requirements than imported fossil fuels. As a result, they have been quite proactive in adopting it.
Solar energy is a clean and renewable source of power. Over the lifetime of a solar system, a lot of carbon that would have been emitted if the same power was produced through coal, is saved.
E.g.: In India, the carbon emitted per kWh of power was approximately 500gm/kWh, which means that for every unit of power that we consume, we emit almost half a kilo of carbon dioxide. A 1kW solar system that produces 1500kWh of electricity per year, would save over 750 kg of CO2 in one year alone.
With the increasing power consumption in developing countries, the world is in grave danger if we continue to power our growth through traditional means. It is alarmingly important for developing countries to skip past thermal power and adopt renewable energy. Fortunately, with the cost of solar now at a record low, they have an additional incentive to do so.
Energy generation is the single largest contributor to human emissions. If we add the contribution of the emissions due to the transportation sector (which can also be mitigated by using electric vehicles powered through a renewable energy grid), it accounts for over 50% of all of our emissions. Hence, curbing this emission is the first step to fighting global warming.
Solar power is a high volume job creator. It is expected to create over 2.5 million jobs by 2025 in India alone. During its life cycle, a solar plant creates jobs in manufacturing, transportation, engineering, installation, maintenance, etc.
In the context of India, solar jobs seem especially lucrative because the country is home to a large youth population. With a little skill set training, this job-seeking population can grow enormously in the solar sector around the world.
Furthermore, several local communities in rural and under-developed parts of the world have found employment in the solar industry. They maintain the solar plants in their region, and this access to good high paying jobs has stopped many of them from shifting to larger cities in the hopes of finding employment.
REDUCTION OF DEPENDENCY ON IMPORTED FOSSIL FUELS
This factor is especially important for countries like India and China. Both of these countries are heavily dependent on their imports of fossil fuels to meet their power needs for electricity and transportation.
This fact has placed major stress on the economies of the two countries, and also has major foreign policy implications. By switching to solar, we can significantly reduce this import requirement, thereby also ensuring that the government has funds to invest elsewhere for the country’s development.
Overall, solar energy is slowly beginning to establish its place as an important source of power globally. Governments now need to ensure that they are doing their bit to promote solar power in their countries. This is important not just for the growth of civilization, but also to ensure the habitability of the very planet that we all call home.