Modern society is run on energy. It powers almost every aspect of our lives. Yet the infrastructure and approach to energy generation is far from modern in most developed nations. This, plus the appetite for energy in developing regions ever increasing, presents a global energy challenge that no one nation can solve alone.
The Global Energy Mix
Looking at the global energy mix, the magnitude of the challenge is apparent: conventional energy sources are simply unsustainable.
- 12 billion metric tons of CO2 emitted globally to generate electricity & heat in 2009 (IEA 2011)
- Shale gas requires 4.5 million gallons of water per well for hydraulic fracturing (Chesapeake Energy 2012)
- A 500MW coal plant uses 2.2 billion gallons of water annually (UCS 2012)
- Saudi Arabia burns 3,000 bbl of crude oil per day for electricity (ESIA 2012)
- Global inventory of 180,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel from power plants (IAEA 2007)
So how can we begin to address such a massive global challenge?
Renewables Rise to the Challenge
The shift to a new energy paradigm is already happening today. The promise of renewables is being realized, with distributed generation technologies like solar gaining acceptance at an accelerated rate. According to IMS Research, a leading supplier of market research on all aspects of the solar photovoltaic (PV) value chain, global PV growth is expected to double by 2016 (see chart below).
But we’re only at the beginning of what is to become a truly sustainable energy paradigm. Making solar energy more accessible can further unlock its true potential.
Modern Solar Energy
Over the last decade in particular, improvements to solar PV mostly focus on making systems better performing and less complicated to install. As it stands today, installing solar energy systems is still largely a specialized trade. Advancements such as microinverters, which turn solar arrays from high-voltage systems requiring advanced training into safer low-voltage systems, are breaking down the barriers to who can install solar.
Imagine a world where any general contractor, roofer or electrician can grow their business by offering solar as a complement to their services. Even Do-it-Yourselfers would now have the ability to take their energy costs and future into their own hands.
This seemingly far off dream is already a reality today, making solar further ready for the mainstream.
Building out a new, decentralized energy infrastructure where the point of generation and consumption are not separated by sometimes hundreds of miles of transmission lines, is a challenge. But accessible solar, as part of a larger sustainable energy mix, presents modern solutions to the global energy challenge already being practiced today.