You can pretty much go to any place in the United States and find a fair amount of solar energy coming from the abundant sunshine. (OK, maybe the Pacific Northwest is an exception.) Sunshine is in great supply in the U.S., and the United States is one of the world leaders in generating solar energy with its innovations and its widespread production of polysilicon cells that are used for panels.
Although America is one of the world leaders in producing energy from solar, it has had a difficult time generating momentum in terms of actually using solar energy on homes, businesses and parking garages. While the U.S. has some of the best weather in terms of the amount of sunshine, and it has the technological and manufacturing know-how to produce tons and tons of solar energy, the country ranks fifth in the world in solar energy use at 12 gigawatts as of 2012. That sounds like a lot, but it is only one third of the solar energy installed in the top solar-use country, Germany (35.5 GW), which has about one third the population.
Why the Discrepancy?
There are all kinds of reasons why the U.S. is either lacking in solar use, or why other countries have embraced solar so much more. We could get into the nuances and the weeds of government regulations, lobbying and so forth. What we will say it does get complicated, but with a free market and multiple ways for homes and businesses to get their electrical power, many look for the cheapest and most efficient sources. And to be honest, while solar has been slowly becoming more affordable, it is still very expensive in terms of an up-front investment.
To Go Green, It’s About the Green
If a home or business already has a low electric bill, then investing in solar panels and solar energy probably does not make much sense because it would take the life of a 30-year mortgage for the panels for pay for themselves. The price has come down in recent years due to a boom in solar panel production around the world, but there is a sizable investment (though many states and the federal government provide tax breaks for homes that install solar panels as alternative-energy or energy-efficient sources).
In other countries, it appears that the national governments have made special commitments to solar power, and that has helped increase the amount of solar that is being used. Some of it is education, some of it is subsidies by the government to those who get solar installed.
The Truth of the Matter
While the idea of using solar energy can be attractive, the bottom line is that not many people use it as an alternative energy source just because it’s an alternative energy source; they use it because in the long run they believe it will be cheaper than using electricity from the utility company that is produced from hydroelectric or coal sources.
In an indirect way, many homes and business are using solar without paying for it directly. Many utility companies around the country have adopted at least a percentage of their electricity production from solar power. While it is a big investment for the companies initially (and that could be seen in short-term rate hikes by the utilities), it can, in the long-term, be a very profitable and efficient generator of electric power to a large percentage of the population which the utility serves.
State governments are doing their best to attract solar companies into their states for the jobs and the overall economy but they seem to be slow in providing similar breaks to consumers who wish to install solar. With free-market principles in place in the U.S., solar energy will have to continue to drop in price before it can be embraced by a larger swath o the population.
Solar is continuing to grow around the world, and it is only a matter of time before the most prosperous nation in the world, the U.S., will eventually ride the wave and challenge Germany and China as top solar-energy users. Momentum is building as several solar companies are or will be opening solar-panel plants on U.S. soil, and the market is evening out to the point that a U.S.-made solar array costs only about 10 percent more than one made in China, and can be produced and installed more quickly. And with time doubling as money, a more quick production and installation can lend to U.S.-made panels being ultimately cheaper than China counterparts, and be better in quality workmanship. And in America, it is not just cost; people like quality and will invest in it when provided a choice.
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