Wednesday’s announcement from the Biden administration about a plan that would allow the country to generate forty-five per cent of its electricity through solar panels could one day be remembered for being one of the moments that really matter. It is the equivalent of announcing that you have reached a goal. “before this decade is up”We will reach the goal “landing a man on the moon and keeping him safe to bring back to earth. “This plan is much more ambitious, however: the Apollo project focused all of the country’s technological power on moving one person; it’s more like ending up in a whole new place. But physical goals are easier to track and understand than, say, the squishy and amorphous talk of “net zero”Emissions, and so on. Observers can easily monitor our progress and check if future governments are on the same page.
It will not stop global warming if a country can convert its electricity to nearly half of solar energy. An effort of this size will help us move quickly on the learning curve. The cost of solar energy has decreased by approximately thirty percent with each doubling its capacity. It is currently at less than 4 percent. However, it should be at least 45 percent. This should make it the most affordable energy on Earth.
There are many potential pitfalls. There are many pitfalls. This is made more difficult by the fact that many American businesses are hacking to stop some parts of it. But the political problems don’t end there. Many local opposition to solar farm construction comes from those who do not want to work with them. This is a problem that exists even in Vermont, where I reside.
Deep questions remain about whether the metals and other resources are available to make it happen. Megan K. Seibert (and William E. Rees) argue that proponents failed to address issues like “gigatons” and answer the question of how the depleted metals, minerals and metals necessary for the construction and operation of RE technologies. ”However, the London-based Carbon Tracker Initiative has recently argued that material constraints are becoming less and less important; At the moment, the regularly falling solar costs seem to be taking hold. Saul Griffith, author and editor of the book Electrify states that using renewable energy requires less material than a fuel-based energy system.
Perhaps the most difficult question to answer is when: 2050 is not far off, but a lot can be done before then. It seems to be getting more difficult to make the necessary global and national efforts as global warming worsens. With some irritation, I thought back to an earlier, similar goal set by an American president. In the middle of Jimmy Carter’s administration, amid OPEC’s second oil crisis, he set the goal to generate twenty percent of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2000. He said these words in 1979:
This solar water heater that I have installed behind me in 2000 will still be providing energy here economically and efficiently. . . . This solar heater could be seen as a curiosity, a piece of art, a lost cause, or a fraction of the most thrilling and exciting adventures that the American people have ever undertaken.
Carter was prophetic. Unfortunately, he was also wrong. One of those solar panels the Reagan administration had taken off the White House roof was first seen in a Chinese museum. Had Carter been reëected and had we followed his vision steadily through the eighties and nineties, we might have been on the learning curve decades earlier. Although we may not have solved the climate change problem yet, we are likely to be in a far better position. It’s a tragedy that we didn’t achieve it.
We are not in the “greatest and most thrilling adventure” that we have ever undertaken. We are embarking on an extremely risky venture, amid the devastation caused by Hurricane Ida and in the shadow of the large fires that raged to the west.
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