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By Robert Rapier on Jul 9, 2008 with no responses

That’s a Lot of Solar Insolation

Without a doubt, I am a big fan of solar power. I have very high hopes that thin film companies like Nanosolar will allow us all to drape our homes in cheap solar films. I spend time pondering how much solar power it would take to replace electricity usage or transportation fuel in the U.S.

But I don’t think the U.S. has done nearly enough to foster solar energy. Check out this graphic from a new story in Forbes – Sue OPEC? Congress Should Sue Itself – to appreciate how much potential we have for solar power in the U.S.

Instead of ineffectual and counterproductive OPEC lawsuits, Congress should look at other countries. Germany has reached 14% renewable electricity use–they’re shooting for 27% by 2020–and Denmark is already at 40%.

Check out the map above. With the exception of Seattle, the entire continental U.S. is much sunnier than Germany. Yet Germany has 17 times the installed solar base per capita. The same goes for Japan, where “feed-in tariffs,” or subsidies, have ended yet the solar business is thriving and competitive.

Amazing. Of course some will argue that Germany’s push to solar has been a boondoggle, precisely because they are poorly positioned to take advantage of the sun. But that’s beside the point, which is simply that the U.S. has great potential for transitioning to a solar economy.

On the other hand, as the article points out, the U.S. government has been busy doing something over the past 30 years:

Over the last 30 years, elected U.S. officials blocked nuclear build-out and spent fuel storage construction; impeded the construction of oil refineries; refrained from passing meaningful alternative energy legislation; imposed an import tax on cheaper Brazilian ethanol; prevented offshore drilling in Alaska, California and Florida; delayed tighter auto fuel-efficiency standards for 30 years; blocked the construction of liquefied natural gas ports; killed wind farms in their own backyards (and back bays); and neglected opportunities for public-private sector partnerships on energy research and development.

I suspect things are about to change a bit, though. $130 oil puts a lot of pressure on Congress to do something. However, their history on energy issues does not inspire confidence.