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    Alternative Energy: Solar Energy in the United States

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    Throughout the last decade, more companies and governments in the U.S. have started the transition to green energy but, no state, other than California, has done it better than rest of the world. California is leading the transition to renewable energy which gives us a reason to look at the positive aspect of it on the environment.  As the world is moving slowly towards the transition to green energy, in the last five years, dramatic action has taken place in California to accelerate the state’s transition to renewable energy. Currently, California’s natural gas accounts for 44% of the state’s electrical power, renewable energy accounts for 19%, up from 11% in 2008, which opens door to study the positive aspects of the change.

    How has California’s CO2 emissions lowered in the past years since the dramatic action to switch to renewable energy was implemented and where is the state heading now? California has acted to implement many solar farms, given tax breaks for electric car purchases, and increased its green energy output to reduce state’s CO2 emissions. In 2012, California emissions reach 459 metric tons, which ranked California second in the nation, based on emissions, after Texas. The biggest sectors that contribute to the high emissions are transportation, industrial uses, and electricity generation. (Chapple 2016) However, in the past 5 years, California has accelerated its transition to renewable energy by crediting renewable energy as 19% of its energy source. This number is up by 8% from and planned to be increased to 50% by the year 2030.

    Energy savings, renewable energy, and transportation activities are the major identifiers and promises that California has the opportunities for achieving alternative energy pathways. (Ghanadan, 2005) Multiple bills have been passed in California to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. California is currently a global leader in climate policy and sustainability planning and is on track to install almost ten times more new photovoltaic generated electricity than any other state. (Philips, 2014) This will help California to push further to be a completely green state and become the first state that is 100% free of gas or coal. California has rapidly increased its supply of solar farms nationwide to reduce gas or coal made energy.

    The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) estimates that a 16.5% of wind power combined with 16% penetration of solar power, for a total of 33% would reduce carbon emission from electricity generation by about one third. ‘The Solar Energy Industry Association estimates that solar-powered electricity generating facilities in California with roughly 5,000MW of collective capacity, have per year reduced carbon dioxide emissions by about 4 million tons, nitrogen oxides emissions by about 6 million tons, and sulfur dioxide emissions by 700,00 tons’ (Philips, 2014).

    California’s solar energy has proven record of track that CO2 emissions are reduced and continue to reduce over the years. In the meantime, California’s utility-scale solar power has effectuated an overall reduction of about 4.8 million tons of nitrogen oxides, 3.3 million tons of carbon dioxide, and 530,000 tons of sulfur dioxide. ‘A combined approach that brings together individual and community activities with state and national policies leads to the largest energy savings, increases in energy diversity, and reduction in greenhouse gas emissions’ (Koomey, 2005).  California’s lawmakers are given tax incentives for people that purchase electric vehicles, encouraging people to switch to sustainable energy. The electric automaker, Tesla, offers incentives with the purchase of their vehicles.

    The federal income tax credit is $7,000 which is applied in all states. Further incentives are offered on a state by state basis. For example, in California, an additional $2,500 of a tax rebate is offered with a new purchase based on income eligibility. ‘Plug-in electric vehicles could reduce or eliminate oil for the light vehicle fleet’ (Lund, 2008). The federal government is working closely with people to accelerate California’s transition to sustainable energy. A study done by Stanford University suggests that all-electric vehicles offer a more affordable way to reduce carbon dioxide in the air rather than the cars powered by hydrogen or fossil fuel. Although hydrogen cars have very high MPG ratings, different gasses are still passed in the air which makes them less environmentally friendly than electric vehicles but, more friendly than fossil fuel powered vehicles.

    Neither of the vehicles is entirely emissions-free, as some people charge their cars off the grid, rather than solar power.  Fuel Cell vehicles require more than twice the electric energy than battery vehicles mostly due to the generation infrastructure. ‘In terms of overall costs, we found that battery electric vehicles are better than fuel cell vehicles for reducing emissions’. (Felgenhauer, 2016) In addition, those who choose to install photovoltaic (solar) panels on their homes have the ability to store excess energy during the day in the energy storage, such as Power Wall made by Tesla, and later use it to charge their electric vehicles or power their homes.

    This also enables the customer to use solar energy during peak hours when the energy from the grid is more expensive or sell it back to the grid and make money off of it and contribute to the community. In the past year, a new bill was introduced to accelerate California’s transition to renewable energy to 100% by 2045, but it might encounter some difficulties down the road as some are against this. The bay area loves it. The big tech giants that focus on green energy have expressed great interest in this, but environmentalists from oil and gas companies stand against this.

    The creator of the bill, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De Leon says ‘this is about jobs’, ‘real jobs’. Approximately 500,000 are currently employed in the green energy field, which is ten times more than coal mining industry. The holdbacks of energy storage, regional cooperation, and more power sources might create some larger obstacles. In order to get over these obstacles, California’s Air Resources Board, Energy Commission, and Public Utilities Commission have to come together to create a long-term planning and decision making.

    If this is done, the main energy sources of solar, wind, biomass, renewable gas and hydroelectricity will increase. It will also bump up the initial bill of 50% by 2030 to 60% by 2030 (Hansen, 2017). As the technology progresses, the prices will fall, which is what leaders of the solar industry suggest, although, until this, a lot of people are skeptical. Solar and wind energy generation take up a lot of space, need large energy storage facilities, and cost money. Supporters say lawmakers should trust than innovation can drive the energy to clean, affordable energy (Hansen, 2017).

    Another leader in renewable energy in the United States is Hawaii, an island like Kauai has a 52 megawatt-hour battery farm by Tesla, and a 13 megawatt SolarCity solar farm. The Island of Kauai and Tesla worked together on this project which is believed to reduce fossil fuel usage by 1.6 million gallons per year. Although these states are similar in their projections to become 100% dependent on renewables, they are still very different. Hawaii is not a hydrocarbon producing state, which means that it has to ship hydrocarbon at very high rates. Also, California ranks in 1st place in the US when it comes to population, while Hawaii ranks only in the 40th spot, which means that California will have to work a lot harder to achieve 100% dependent on renewables status.

    The positive aspect of this is that California’s GDP is $2.6 trillion which is approximately 14% of the national GDP. If California makes a complete transition to renewable energy, it will dramatically affect the rest of the United States. States like Massachusetts, are looking into passing a bill that will require renewables energy use of 100% by the year of 2050.  California has initiated a trend and a goal that other states will follow, with the current data most states, will have a bill that requires 70-100% renewable energy usage by the years of 2050-2060.A lot of press does not focus on the downside of renewables, and California plays a big role in it. Looking at the top crude oil-producing states, California ranks in the 3rd position in the United States. It produced 500,000 barrels of oil per day in 2014, followed by Texas and North Dakota.

    While the bill that would make California 100% dependent on renewables does not reduce oil and gas production within the state, it will limit on how much oil and gas is used to create electricity. In 2015, California used 44% of its electricity generated from oil, coal, and natural gas, in addition, 30% were imported from out of state with a mix of renewable and non-renewable sources. (Nace, 2017) Switching power systems from oil, gas, and coal to renewable sources will cost a lot of infrastructures that is going to require a lot of money and time.

    Until the goal is reached, California will be using large amounts of electricity produced from coal and oil even though they want to become a 100% renewable. Over the past decade, California has taken action to reduce CO2 emission in the air. The federal government works on creating new bills, and people are encouraged to switch to renewable products with tax incentives, which initiates the demand for more solar farms to appear in the state. Energy from solar and wind power is to take 50% of California’s energy sources by 2030 and 100% by the year of 2050.

    In the meantime, studies have shown that from all available low emission vehicles, electric vehicles are the most efficient in the overall cost. California is experiencing setbacks from available space, funding, and government regulations that might affect the speed of the transition. As it is one the leading states in the US with renewable energy, California is determined to keep its record of pursuing a state-wide transition to green energy so the rest of the world can follow.

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    Alternative Energy: Solar Energy in the United States. (2021, Apr 15). Retrieved from

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