Climate Change Will Hurt the Economy — How Solar Can Help

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For anyone wondering why we should tackle climate change, the White House released a report this week from the Council of Economic Advisers that examines the economic consequences of delaying action. The report finds that a delay of just 10 years increases total mitigation costs by approximately 40%, and failing to take any action could lead to substantial economic damage.

Climate change is a serious matter

Most people seem to be catching on that climate change is a serious problem. A majority of Americans, not to mention the military and financial establishments, believe there’s cause for concern.

You know it’s serious when even fossil-fuel companies are taking steps to mitigate the effects of climate change caused by carbon emissions — yes, that’s the very carbon emissions they contribute to. A while back, the world’s largest mining company announced it would retrofit its facilities against the extreme weather events its own activities had helped make more serious and frequent. Now a Delaware oil refinery is seeking protection from the sea level rise that threatens its infrastructure. We’re likely to see many more of these companies take similar actions.

The new report strengthens the case for action by showing that inaction hits where it really hurts: the pocketbook.

Solar can help

What to do? The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) has an answer. In May, SEIA released a report arguing for expanding solar energy in the U.S. to cut carbon emissions. The report makes a detailed case for states to use solar energy as part of their efforts to comply with the Clean Air Act.

According to SEIA, this year alone, solar is expected to generate enough electricity to effectively offset 13.8 metric tons of CO2 emissions. The 14,800 MW of solar currently installed in the U.S. can generate enough pollution-free electricity to displace 18 billion pounds of coal or 1.8 billion gallons of gasoline. That’s the equivalent of removing 3.5 million passenger cars from our roads. And we can do much more.

Taking part in a national “listening tour” conducted by the Environment Protection Agency (EPA), this week SEIA urged states to turn to solar energy to help meet new carbon pollution targets. For states trying to meet enhanced air quality standards, SEIA says solar can be a real game changer.

SEIA’s Katherine Stainken told agency officials, “SEIA agrees with the EPA that renewable energy is part of the best system of emission reduction. Many states have proven that system-wide programs that require the implementation of renewable energy are extremely effective at reducing carbon emissions in an achievable, efficient and cost-effective manner.”

Stainken did advocate for modifying some parts of the Clean Power Plan, noting that current solar capacity already exceeds estimates used by the EPA in coming up with 2030 targets for states, and that the industry has been growing rapidly. She also urged the EPA to recognize distributed solar and go beyond looking at PV to include other solar technologies.

Solar is growing

Highlighting the rapid growth of solar not only in the U.S. but also worldwide, the Worldwatch Institute released figures showing that in 2013, solar power generation (both PV and CSP) broke records. Over 39 GW are installed worldwide, with the PV solar market getting close to a third of all newly added renewable energy capacity. The U.S. installed 4.8 GW of PV in 2013, putting it in third place worldwide.

New solar PV installations not only came close to matching hydropower but also, for the first time, outpaced wind. The CSP market also grew, with 19 countries having installed or planned CSP plants at the end of 2013.

Solar power consumption increased 30% percent globally in 2013 to reach 124.8 terawatt-hours.

Prospects are bright for solar development as prices continue to fall and approach grid parity in many more areas, the report said. PV may already be price-competitive without subsidies in 15 countries (we know that’s also true in some parts of the U.S.). For 2014, solar installations are estimated to reach 40 – 51 GW.

That should put a nice dent in carbon emissions. We’re on a good trajectory to fight climate change; now we just need to step up solar even more.