Solar energy is perhaps the most widespread renewable energy we have available to us here in the U.S. (and throughout much of the world). Its more a matter of building the infrastructure to capture it effectively–both for active and passive solar energy systems.
I think it’s possible, but I think it’s going to be close. The problem with solar power is not the availability of the sun or even the expense or logistics of putting up solar panels everywhere; as Lunafish points out if the infrastructure is constructed, it can make a lot of sense. The problem is storing the energy when the sun isn’t shining. There are plans afoot to address this problem, such as through the use of molten salt to capture heat energy from solar panels. Salt is cheap, biodegradable, retains heat well and can be used again for the same purpose. Is it possible that someday we may all have solar panels on our houses and tanks of molten salt to retain our energy? Maybe, but it’s anyone’s guess how they will pencil out economically. I think wind power also has a chance to become a major contributor of renewable energy. Many electrical utilities, such as Portland General Electric in Oregon, are deriving electricity from wind farms; the windmills in Altamont, California have been running for decades and there’s big money to be made by companies like Vestas in manufacturing wind turbines which are now heavily used in Europe. I think solar energy is promising but has a long way to go before it’s practical and economical on a wide scale. While it may surpass wind power eventually as the largest renewable energy source in the US, I think in the near term wind power is probably a better bet, because that technology has less distance to go in order to become profitable.
The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) states that out of all the renewable energy sources consumed in 2008, biomass had the largest percentage at 58%. Hydroelectric energy was the next most consumed at 34% and solar energy made up only 1% of the total renewable energy consumption. The EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook for 2010 predicts that nuclear power will take the largest percentage of the renewable energy consumption by 2035, at 9.41% behind fossil fuels.
I think it should become the biggest renewable energy source, with wind energy only slightly behind or equal. There’s no reason not to fill the roofs with solar panels, especially in the south and southwestern areas, and those would be the good locations for large solar power plants. There are also plenty of good wind farms places, especially offshore or in the plains. Out of all the sources of electricity, these two have the least impact on our environment while being the easiest to deploy, and should be the ones for use to use.
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