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Solar Energy Could Power U.S. Many Times Over

The Sunshine Energy Solar Array near Sarasota. (Photo courtesy of Florida Power & Light.)If the U.S. moved aggressively to start harnessing the solar power it receives daily, it could generate enough clean energy to meet the country’s needs many times over, according to a new report from Environment Florida.

The report, “On the Rise; Solar Thermal Power and the Fight Against Global Warming,” touts the multiple benefits of solar thermal power that the U.S. has barely begun to tap. One, it’s a clean source of energy that could replace other power sources that generate greenhouse gases and worsen climate change. Two, by storing thermal energy, it can generate electricity even when the sun isn’t shining. And ,three, it’s wildly abundant in the U.S., offering way more clean energy than we currently use on a daily basis.

The report notes that a 100-mile-by-100-mile solar thermal installation in the American Southwest could meet the entire country’s energy needs. That area, it further adds, is just a little larger than the amount of land in the U.S. that has been strip-mined for coal.

“If we are going to get serious about fighting global warming and addressing our energy challenges, solar energy must be part of the solution,” said Holly Binns, Environment Florida’s field director.

While the Southwest alone could generate more than 7,000 gigawatts of energy,  other parts of the U.S.  — including Florida — promise a large potential for solar energy development. The Sunshine State has some catching-up to do, but recently improved its clean-energy performance with the opening of the Sunshine Energy Solar Array near Sarasota. The 28,000-square-foot array, Florida’s largest to date, can generate 250 kilowatts of energy, enough to power about 45 typical homes per month.

Clearly, the state will need quite a few more like these to make a serious dent in its fossil-fuel consumption and carbon emissions. Florida officials hope recently approved green-energy legislation will encourage those kinds of developments. The bill includes, among other things, authorization for a cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a renewable fuel standard and renewable portfolio standard that promotes wind and solar energy, and new building standards that call for higher energy efficiency in new homes and businesses.

At the national level, the Environment Florida report is also encouraging. With the right policies, it says, the U.S. could easily generate 80 gigawatts of concentrating solar power by 2030. That would be enough to power 25 million homes, reduce carbon emissions by 6.6 percent and create between 75,000 and 140,000 new jobs.

Good news — for a change — isn’t it? Let’s just hope the right people are listening.