SEATTLE, Washington — Without change or growth, the world stagnates. As the human population continues to grow exponentially, so does the need for more energy. Unsurprisingly, humanity’s reliance on fossil fuels as its primary source of energy has become more and more problematic as the environmental cost of such usage has become blatantly apparent. The progress and prowess of technological developments in the field of renewable and sustainable energy sources may provide a solution. Solar power could combat poverty and the environmental challenges of the 21st century. This could reshape the landscape of how the energy industry operates.
The Benefits of Solar Energy
Mehran Moalem, a UC Berkley Professor who is lauded as an expert on nuclear energy, told Forbes that, “There is no way coal, oil, wind, geothermal or nuclear can compete with this [solar energy].” After all, the sun is almost an unfathomable power, providing a reliable and nearly overwhelming source of renewable energy. If the world could fully harness the energy from the sun, one second would be enough to power the entirety of modern human infrastructure for roughly 500,000 years. As solar panels and battery technologies improve exponentially, solar is becoming the increasingly obvious choice for low cost, environmentally conscious and sustainable power. While this does not mean it would or should take over the world overnight, a steady shift provides the possibility of a more sustainable future.
One of the more beneficial aspects of solar power is the ability to decentralize its generation. While large solar farms are useful, there need not be one large plant that produces and distributes energy. Instead, individuals and businesses can utilize their own real estate to generate their own power by installing solar panels. While some places run entirely on solar energy, improving battery technology will make it more feasible to run homes and facilities off of solar.
From an environmental perspective, solar energy is a lifesaver. Cutting down on fossil fuel dependency means cutting down on air pollution. This does not just affect plants and animals. Many life-threatening conditions in humans are a byproduct of modern air. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “An estimated 4.2 million premature deaths globally are linked to ambient air pollution.” The compounded effect of environmental challenges, to which the combustion of fossil fuels is a significant contributing factor, could be disastrous the longer human inaction allows carbon dioxide to build up in the atmosphere.
The Honnold Foundation
In developing countries, solar power could combat poverty by allowing rural communities access to clean power and the benefits this entails. Some nonprofit organizations are using solar for the mutual benefit of the environment and the people. For example, world-renowned rock climber Alex Honnold founded the Honnold Foundation. The organization focuses on facilitating the implementation of solar power grids in developing countries as a way to offset emissions and pull people out of poverty.
One of the focuses is to eventually try and allow local entrepreneurs to take over the solar power expansion efforts in the areas they focus on as a way to allow for affordable solar power to also contribute to local economic strength. This circumvents the concern of artificially inflating a local economy in an unsustainable manner that may even hurt local businesses. Partnering up is a win-win.
Innovative Solar Initiatives
Solar can take part in a wide array of innovative applications. The Honnold Foundation also allocates money to awarding grants to aid other organizations as “partners.” On May 19, 2020, the Honnold Foundation released its list of grant recipients for the year, which included organizations in Cambodia, Indonesia, Ecuador, Brazil, Guatemala, the Solomon Islands and Mexico. The efforts these grant funds and supporting are as diverse as the countries, including Kara Solar’s solar power canoes in Ecuador. The canoes allow people to commute to work without polluting their local rivers. They also go toward helping The Lake Clinic provide health services with solar-powered medical tech in Cambodia. The solar-powered medical tech came into being as a way to provide power in remote areas where generators would be impractical long term.
These are just a few of the examples of innovative solar applications countries are using. Fundamentally, solar allows for accessible energy virtually everywhere on the planet with access to sunlight. Time will tell how these grants manifest into meaningful outcomes and further the adoption of solar energy.
One Step Towards a Brighter Future
While the implementation of solar power might be disruptive at first, it has clearly found its footing as an innovative force for positive change. Its ability to lift poor populations out of poverty continues to be shown. The silver lining to the fear generated by the impending climate crisis is that humanity has the ability to change to meet such challenges as it has done before.
A single house placing solar panels on its roof is a step towards positive change, as are donations to nonprofits like the Honnold Foundation spearheading solar as the new normal. It all adds up and culminates in an effect far bigger than one might expect. All in all, understanding the science behind needing to switch over to renewable energy is as pivotal as understanding the inherent economic benefits. Solar power could combat poverty through job creation and access to low-cost energy and services.
– Jack Leggett III