Environment Minnesota Research & Policy Center
MINNEAPOLIS – From laundromats and universities, to homes and cars, solar energy is already enhancing energy security and reducing pollution in America. A new Environment Minnesota report outlines a vision for using the sun to meet 10 percent of the United States’ total energy needs by 2030.
“The sun provides more energy in an hour than all the coal mines and oil wells do in a year,” said Ken Bradley. “This solar energy is limitless and pollution-free. Minnesota can and must figure out how to tap the heat and power of the sun. Solar power is also increasingly cost competitive with older, dirtier sources of energy.”
Building a Solar Future: Repowering America’s Homes, Businesses and Industry with Solar Energy examines a wide variety of solar technologies and tools, including photovoltaics, concentrating solar power, solar water heaters, solar space heating, and passive solar design. The report also profiles various applications of solar energy currently in use, such as:
- Walmart’s use of skylights in some of its big box stores has cut energy costs by 15 to 20 percent by reducing the need for electric lighting.
- Laundry facilities, hotels, hospitals and even baseball’s Boston Red Sox have adopted solar water heating to reduce their consumption of natural gas for water heating.
- A Frito-Lay plant in California uses solar concentrators to provide heat for cooking snack foods.
- Solar energy can be paired with advanced energy efficiency techniques to create zero net energy homes, which produce as much energy as they consume. Zero net energy homes have already been built in parts of the country, are possible in all climates, and often save money for consumers over time.
- As more plug in electric cars and trucks enter the marketplace, solar energy will power our nation’s transportation system as well, including hopefully at the Ford Plant in Saint Paul.
Environment Minnesota has made removing state barriers to increasing solar development a top priority at the legislature this session. Environment Minnesota is working with a coalition that includes the Solar Energy Industry Association, Minnesota AFLCIO, League of Cities and other groups to pass legislation that would enable local governments to create programs that would increase solar and efficiency improvements on residential and commercial properties through voluntary local bonding.
Sen. John Doll from Burnsville and Rep. Jeremy Kalin from North Branch are championing the legislation, which will remove barriers and create access for consumers. Sen. Doll acknowledges, “Because of our colder weather many Minnesotans don’t consider solar a viable option, but they would be surprised to learn that we have the fifth best solar resource in the country. We need to take advantage of that resource.” Rep. Kalin says, “The world has more engineers and scientists working on solar power today than at any time in our history. These innovators are helping to reduce costs and increase efficiencies that may soon make solar a preferred choice for many consumers.”
Environment Minnesota called on local, state and federal governments to remove the barriers currently impeding the spread of solar energy. Solar Energy Industry Association Policy Director Lynn Hinkle said, “This can be accomplished by investing in solar and adopting strong policies to make solar energy an important part of Minnesota’s energy future.” Such policies include financial incentives, advanced building codes, public education, workforce development, research and development, and a strong requirement for utilities to get a percentage of their electricity from renewable energy, like solar.
The report finds that by achieving a 10 percent goal for solar energy, within two decades the sun could provide more energy than the United States currently produces at nuclear power plants, more than half as much as it currently consumes in American cars and light trucks, or nearly half as much as we currently obtain from burning coal. Solar energy can play a major role in weaning the nation from dangerous, polluting, unstable and, in many cases, increasingly expensive forms of energy.
“Americans today need barrels of oil from a desert half a world away, in the most unsettled and dangerous region of the earth, just to power a trip to the grocery store in Minnesota,” said Environment Minnesota’s Ken Bradley. “How much easier and more secure would it be to harness the heat and light that strikes our rooftops every day?”
A list of Solar Projects developed in Minnesota can be found here.