Can Solar Energy Ever Replace Fossil Fuels?

Fossil fuels are formed by natural processes that take place over the time span of hundreds of millions of years deep underneath the Earth’s surface. Because they takes too long to regenerate, fossil fuels are considered a non-renewable resource. Today, we are highly dependent on this type of resources in our daily life. Around 80% all our energy demand is covered by burning fossil fuels. But we are consuming too much and too fast. At the current consumption rate, it is estimated that fossil fuels will run out in less than 100 years. Then what?

The Earth receives around 73,000 terawatts of solar radiation (sunlight) every day, which is roughly 10,000 times the daily global energy use. The potential of solar energy to power our future is undeniable. If we could harness the sun’s clean and free energy, we wouldn’t have to drill for polluting fossil fuels. Even though the solar technology is still in its early stages, it starts to be increasingly cost-effective and a lot more people start to be aware of the advantages it brings.

But…fossil fuel production today costs much less than any renewable energy generation. That’s because the fossil fuel industry has developed over time and its technology and infrastructure are more advanced than any other type of energy resource. This is one of the main reasons why governments and big corporations still prefer fossil fuels over clean solar energy. Solar requires bigger investment at the moment.

Despite the falling costs of renewable energy in recent years, solar energy still produces a very insignificant percentage (not even 5%) of the world’s electricity. While it may seem like an impossible mission to completely eliminate fossil fuels from our energy production in the foreseeable future, there is a reason for hope.

All energy transitions, such as fossil fuels, take many decades to happen. If you think about it, it took more than 50 years for coal to substitute wood as the world’s leading energy resource and an additional 50 years for oil to overtake coal. Therefore, it’s normal to except a similar development for solar energy. But the life-changing moment when solar will replace fossil fuels may be closer than we think. In 2016, solar power was in fact the fastest growing source of new energy in the world, overtaking the growth of all other energy forms for the first time.

A major drawback of solar panels right now is the efficiency to convert sunlight into electricity. The most effective commercial panels have an efficiency rating of up to 22 percent. The rest of the energy is not entering the circuit, so it’s lost. Just recently, scientists discovered a better way to absorb sunlight in solar panels that could double their efficiency. The inspiration came from the wings of a butterfly that uses sunlight to warm up its muscles before flying. While this successful achievement happened just inside the laboratory, it will take some time to be available in commercial solar systems.

As research continues to bring improvements in the solar technology, processing and distribution networks are gradually decreasing the price of solar, and when the balance between cost and benefit comes in our favor, fossil fuels will become just a thing of the past. Our economy is based on energy, and assumes energy is going to always be consistent, easily available and affordable. Shifting from non-renewable fuels will also require us, the people, to strongly support the change. We’re living in a world of constant, accelerating technological change and our attitude toward technology was always positive. It’s time to also look beyond the new forms of social media and new applications. It’s time to look behind the scenes for a moment and choose the sustainable path for the future.

A great way to speed up the transition to solar is by introducing solar power to our everyday lives. Here are few suggestions: install solar panels on your house because they are affordable and you can take advantages of many tax credits to help you decrease the installation costs; consider powering your RV or off-grid cabin with solar panels; carry your own portable solar charging station with you wherever you go. You can power your smartphone, tablet, or any other USB compatible devices with free solar energy.

Global warming, sea level rise, floods and pollution are the real price of today’s modern life. Fossil fuels are the major cause of climate change. The idea of business as usual cannot be accepted anymore. The health of our environment requires this transition to happen as quickly as possible. After all, this is not about saving the environment but saving ourselves. We depend on environment for our existence.