Al Gore: 'Cheaper' Solar Power Helping to Save the Planet

Image: Al Gore: 'Cheaper' Solar Power Helping to Save the Planet

Wednesday, 18 Jun 2014 02:01 PM

By Drew MacKenzie

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Environmental activist Al Gore has suddenly turned optimistic about the fate of the planet after learning some "shocking good news" in his war on the "large carbon polluters."

In a commentary on climate control in Rolling Stone magazine, Gore said the cost of solar power has fallen dramatically in recent years and that executives of electricity companies using carbon-based fuels are concerned about a "utility death spiral."

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"In the struggle to solve the climate crisis, a powerful, largely unnoticed shift is taking place,"  the former vice president wrote. "The forward journey for human civilization will be difficult and dangerous, but it is now clear that we will ultimately prevail.

"The only question is how quickly we can accelerate and complete the transition to a low-carbon civilization. It is true that we have waited too long to avoid some serious damage to the planetary ecosystem —  some of it, unfortunately, irreversible.

"Yet the truly catastrophic damages that have the potential for ending civilization as we know it can still —  almost certainly —  be avoided. Moreover, the pace of the changes already set in motion can still be moderated significantly."

In the extensive guest column titled "The Turning Point: New Hope for the Climate," Gore then said that the "surprising — even shocking — good news" in the fight against global warming is that the ability to convert sunshine into usable energy has become "much cheaper far more rapidly" than anyone had predicted.

The former Tennessee senator said that the cost of electricity from photovoltaic, or PV, solar cells is now equal to or less than the cost of electricity from other sources powering electric grids in at least 79 countries.

He predicted that by 2020, as solar power becomes more popular, and costs continue to decline, more than 80 percent of the world's people will live in regions where solar will be competitive with electricity from other sources.

"No matter what the large carbon polluters and their ideological allies say or do, in markets there is a huge difference between 'more expensive than' and 'cheaper than,'" wrote Gore, the former vice president and Democratic presidential candidate in the 2000 election won by George W. Bush.

"As a result, all over the world, the executives of companies selling electricity generated from the burning of carbon-based fuels (primarily from coal) are openly discussing their growing fears of a 'utility death spiral.'"

He noted that Germany now generates 37 percent of its daily electricity from wind and solar, and that analysts predict that number will rise to 50 percent by 2020.

In the United States, Gore said that 49 percent of the "new generating capacity came from renewables" in 2012, adding that 166 coal-fired electricity-generating plants have either closed or have announced they are closing since 2010, reducing the amount of greenhouse gas emissions.

"To be sure, some of these closings have been due to the substitution of gas for coal, but the transition under way in both the American and global energy markets is far more significant than one fossil fuel replacing another," he wrote.

"We are witnessing the beginning of a massive shift to a new energy distribution model – from the 'central station' utility grid model that goes back to the 1880s to a 'widely distributed' model with rooftop solar cells, on-site and grid battery storage, and microgrids."

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