Advocates of solar power have long known the many benefits of harnessing this clean, renewable energy source. As these benefits become more apparent to a greater number of people every day, it's driving up the overall positive perception of solar energy among the general population.
The unparalleled popularity of solar power
According to a recent survey conducted by Pew Research Center a whopping 89 percent of Americans support expanding the use of solar power. In addition, 40 percent of respondents said they thought long and hard about seriously installing residential solar panels, while 4 percent went ahead and installed a solar system in the last year.
Not only are U.S. adults in favor of expanding solar energy, but they're largely opposed to supporting traditional methods of energy sources as well. The same survey discovered that 52 percent of respondents were against increasing offshore drilling, 54 percent were opposed to expanding nuclear power plants, 53 percent disagreed with widening the use of fracking and 57 were against broadening the use of coal mining.
Speaking to the Christian Science Monitor about the survey, Cary Funk, the lead author of the Pew Survey, explained why these particular results are so important.
"The distinction here is that it shows broad-based support for expanding solar and wind and more mixed support for other forms of energy," Cary said.
In a sign of the sustained popularity of solar power, Americans added nearly 2 gigawatts of distributed solar PV capacity in 2015, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported. This number is expected to continue to increase as homeowners learn more about the cost-effective investment of installing a solar system.
In addition, utilities are boosting their investment in solar panels, while other fossil fuel sources lag behind, indicating that a large portion of this sector is already aware of the general sentiment of the population. The EIA noted that an expected 9.5 gigawatts of electricity-generating capacity at large-scale solar farms is currently in the pipeline and expected to go online over the new few quarters. This outpaces both natural gas and wind energy, which are both only expected to add 8 and 6.8 gigawatts, respectively.
Many reasons for growing interest in solar power
There's not just one driving factor pushing the increased popularity in solar energy. The Pew survey found a variety of reasons why respondents are considering installing residential solar panels. Among these, both financial and environmental concerns are driving concerns. According to the results:
- 90 percent of respondents said they were considering solar at home to save money on their utility bills
- 87 percent stated they wanted to help the environment
- 62 percent said it was because solar panels would be better for their health
- 60 percent wanted to take advantage of the solar tax investment credit
With so many different reasons for choosing solar power, homeowners have plenty of options to put into the "pro" column when they're deciding whether to install a residential solar system.
In a conversation with the Christian Science Monitor, Alex Trembath, communications director at the Breakthrough Institute, an Oakland-based think thank on environment issues, explained that one of the great things about solar energy is that "people can easily project their values with wind and solar in ways that are difficult to do with other technologies."
"[T]he reasons to oppose it don't jump to mind," Trembath continued. "It isn't just marketing - wind and solar are legitimately clean."
Because solar represents a clean energy source with little reason to oppose, the survey also revealed how solar power bridges partisan divide. Despite a difference of opinion due to ideological divides on other topics, such as climate change, people across the political spectrum all agree that the country should grow its solar-powered electricity generation capabilities. This finding further strengthens the view that solar power provides a wide range of indisputable benefits for homeowners, companies and utility-scale operations.
Due to the overwhelming popularity of solar power, there's good reason to believe it will become the dominant source of electricity in the not-too-far future. Experts believe that by 2050, solar power could be the world's largest source of electricity. The International Energy Agency released a pair of reports showing a road map delineating how solar PV systems could produce up to 16 percent of the world's electricity, while solar thermal electricity from concentrating solar power plants could tack on another 11 percent of generation. If this comes to fruition, it would reduce annual global emissions by more than 6 billion tons of carbon dioxide by 2050. That would be the equivalent of offsetting the direct emissions from the international transport sector or more than the energy-related CO2 emitted by the U.S.
While the agency was quick to stress that the road maps do not present a forecast, solar power's current high level of popularity among the general public combined with the continued government incentives should provide a feasible route to make these road maps a reality. Further, as new, more efficient and more durable solar technologies hit the market every year, reaching these goals set forth in the IEA's road map isn't that far-fetched.
Trina Solar, a global leader in solar technology, is committed to providing high-quality and cost-effective smart solar power solutions for homeowners, companies and utility-scale installations around the world. As a cleaner, safer investment for families and businesses, solar power can help everyone reduce their electricity bills, enjoy energy independence, increase a home or building's value and help reduce global emission levels.
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