NSPE Position Statement No. 1765
Approved: April 2011
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As of 2010, solar energy is such a small fraction of America's electricity production that it is measured in tenths of a percent. By 2030, however, solar energy could provide between 10%20% of the nation's peak electricity demand. NSPE believes that the U.S. must commit to elevating solar energy technology. Most of the world's best solar potential remains unexploited.
The sun's potential for power generation eclipses that of all other renewable energy sources. The largest photovoltaic installation in the U.S., only the 25th largest in the world, was constructed in Las Vegas, where it powers 25% of the required electricity for Nellis Air Force Base using sun-tracking panels.
Although photovoltaic panels are currently expensive and less efficient than parabolic troughs, researchers are making progress with thin-film solar cells at costs tantalizingly close to what is needed to compete with fossil fuels. Megawatt-sized power towers are another version of solar-thermal production and use sunlight to make steam. Photovoltaic cells are no longer limited to individual houses or warehouses and are as common as air-conditioners on rooftops in California, Nevada, and other states with abundant sunshine.
NSPE recognizes that in a few sunny places where electric rates are high, like Italy and Hawaii, solar energy is already on the verge of being competitive. In most places, however, the sun remains by far the most expensive source of electrical power. Because solar energy costs several times more than natural gas or coal in the U.S., it still supplies only a fraction of a percent of our nation's needs.
Reducing the initial cost of solar energy and finding ways in which to store the energy produced during daylight hours for use after sunset are two goals that must be met. NSPE supports increased research and development to reduce costs and improve efficiencies of solar-energy systems technologies and to provide feasible ways in which to store this energy for later use.