According to a thorough study by the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the technical potential of installing solar photovoltaic cells and concentrated solar power in the United States is now estimated to be about 200,000 Gigawatts. That would amount to a staggering 400,000 TWh of energy per year.
Although estimates seem to vary slightly, the U.S. apparently has recently consumed just over 4000 TWh of electricity per year. Even if electricity use grows greatly, if these new estimates are correct, this would surely mean there is a real possibility of creating a situation where there is an abundance of renewable energy available.
The report estimates that 154,864 GW of solar PV and 38,000 GW of concentrated solar power could be installed. 154,200 GW of the total is slated for utility-scale solar pv projects. It’s certainly debatable whether the rolling out of solar will play out like this. Some people are convinced (including me) that most solar will eventually be installed on, and integrated into, homes and commercial buildings rather than as centralized, utility-scale plants like power most today. However, it could conceivably be both, which would mean even more abundant renewable energy.
The NREL report ignores economic and political factors involved in such a large-scale deployment of solar power, and concentrates on the technical factors. The cost of solar is dropping dramatically and is expected to continue to do so, so the economic factors may not be very much of an issue in time. The political factors may largely take care of themselves over time as well, if subsidies are not needed and the technology proves itself to all, to be more than adequate, as I’m sure it will.
Some states are said to hold more potential for generating solar power; these include California and Texas, due to their large populations, large land areas, and of course the amount of sun those states receive annually. Texas could account for around 14% of all the rural solar in the nation. This may be good economic news for a state that has been so involved in fossil fuel production, but may see a decine of that industry over coming decades – not to mention a decline in agriculture if climate change continues to impact the state significantly, as predicted by climatologists.
If these estimates are correct, the future is certainly looking brighter for renewable energy development. Do you feel the potential of solar power is this great in the United States, and in many other countries around the world for that matter?
Image CC licensed by Steve Jurvetson: Solar installation in the rural U.S.