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In 2017, Dr. Kasper Moth-Poulson and his team at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden made headlines with their breakthrough discovery that solar energy can be stored as a liquid for up to 18 years and be released as heat when needed. In the last several weeks, Moth-Poulson’s team has made a further discovery – the stored solar energy can produce electricity by connecting it to a thermoelectric generator.
In a time where the severe consequences of climate change is looking increasingly unavoidable – largely caused by our almost singular reliance on dirty energy past and present – the world is scrambling for alternatives to our current energy consumption habits.
Solar energy is becoming increasingly affordable and abundant. Last year, the United States added nearly 20 GigaWatts of solar capacity. Advancements in solar energy research and development could further expedite the rise of renewable energy.
Rather than debate how we can best expand solar energy across Pennsylvania, discussions have focused on questionable technologies such as carbon capture, utilization and storage (also referred to as “CCUS”). PennFuture recently published a blog where we warned about leaning too heavily into CCUS, as it has not proven to be the effective, climate-friendly solution as advertised. This is especially the case when comparing CCUS to other green alternative energy sources.
Unlike solar energy, CCUS relies on existing and sustained environmentally-degrading carbon output. Solar energy is infinitely renewable and virtually entirely clean. The solar energy system created at Chalmers, also known as Molecular Solar Thermal Energy Storage Systems or “MOST”, provides a fascinating and promising future for both solar and the green alternative energy space as a whole.
As it stands today, solar energy provides less than 1 percent of Pennsylvania’s electricity. There is clearly room for the growth of the Pennsylvania green energy sector, and state government officials have begun to take notice. In March 2021, Governor Tom Wolf announced a clean energy initiative that would produce nearly 50 percent of the state government’s electricity from solar.
Increased state investment in solar would not only be beneficial for our environment, it can also kickstart the Pennsylvania economy. Proof of this already exists. The 2020 Pennsylvania Clean Energy Employment report showed that clean energy industries (overall) added nearly 7,800 jobs in Pennsylvania in 2017-2019, for an 8.7 percent average job growth rate, significantly exceeding the average overall job growth in the state. Pennsylvania’s solar workforce grew by 8.3 percent, well above the state average job growth rate.
Leaning heavily into solar simply makes sense from a consumer, environmental, and broader economic sense. On average, most residents can save between $200 to $800 on their utility bills each year by leasing or buying a solar panel system. While Pennsylvania does not currently offer any state tax credits for solar energy, some can receive at least a 22% Federal solar tax credit. Pennsylvania does provide cost-saving programs to assist those who want to transition to solar power for their homes.
Solar, along with other renewable energy, is now the cheapest it has ever been in history. So why have we not embraced it with open arms? It would require a lot of dismantling of status-quo policies that keep fossil fuels profitable despite their decline. In fact, the regulatory structure of utilities actually makes it more profitable to keep a coal or fossil fuel plant running. With fossil fuel companies bankrolling elected officials to keep fossil fuel tax breaks in place, the much-need Just Transition has been continuously delayed.
Taking climate change seriously, through significant investment in research, development, and implementation can result in breakthroughs with worldwide implications – as seen with the constant achievements of Dr. Moth-Poulson and his team in Sweden. Pennsylvania is at an economic crossroads, rebuilding after a pandemic and the decline of traditional dirty energy which once built the Commonwealth. Green, clean, alternative energy can provide good paying (union) jobs, research opportunities for our world-renowned universities, and a cleaner environment for our Commonwealth.
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