Everyone enjoys a good rivalry. Ohio State vs Michigan, Lakers vs Celtics, or Yankees vs Red Socks are timeless rivalries that even draw interest from casual fans. We even love fictional rivalries: Harry Potter vs Draco Malfoy, Rocky vs Apollo Creed, or Jacob vs Edward. Coal has been generating a large portion of the world’s energy since the 18th century, and solar has recently exploded onto the energy scene as a viable alternative to fossil fuels. Light vs dark, clean vs dirty, old vs new–we’ve got the makings of a great rivalry.
Yes, this is written by a solar company, but that doesn’t mean we’ll be completely biased towards solar. In 2014, Forbes magazine reported that solar cost 13 cents per kilowatt-hour, versus 12 cents for advanced coal plants (unsubsidized). The same article claimed solar will never replace coal’s reliability and cost. That year the United States had a cumulative capacity in 20,000 megawatts of solar power. Two years later, that number had more than doubled to 49,000.
Experts believe that solar will be cheaper than coal in coming years. Whether or not solar will become more cost effective than coal is yet to be seen, but government incentives are currently making solar a cost-effective investment. They are offering homeowners a 30% tax credit on their panels. Business will receive a 10% tax credit, though not as good as 30%, it’s still an attractive option for many businesses that consume a lot of power.
The potential for savings led a Kentucky coal museum to install solar panels. The owner claimed that the panels would cut costs and save money in the long run. “We believe that this project will help save at least $8,000 to $10,000 off the energy costs on this building alone.” If you’re on team coal then that one definitely hurts.
An advantage to coal is that it can always be produced night or day, rain or shine. Solar is dependent on the sun and clear weather to generate electricity. Storage is the main issue that is keeping solar from becoming more effective. Cost-effective batteries have not been developed. That means that when solar panels overproduce power, the energy is transferred to the power grid to power other homes and businesses. Homeowners with solar panels can benefit from overproducing power through net metering.
Even though coal can always be produced, the earth has a limited supply. The World Coal Association estimates that we have 1.1 trillion tonnes of proven coal reserves but that will last less than 200 years at our current usage rates. Another problem is that coal takes about 300 million years to form.
Coal was a major talking point in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. He promised to rescue them, blaming the Obama administration for the the coal industries’ decline. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to bring back coal job for more than one reason. First, man is being replaced by machine in the coal industry. Secondly, the number of coal jobs has been steadily declining since the 1920s. There were 76,000 coal jobs in 2017. Just to give you some perspective, Arbys has 80,000 employees.
The solar industry employs more than oil, coal, and gas combined with 374,000 workers. California just mandated that every new home have solar panels, so there won’t be a shortage of jobs any time soon. While we are still somewhat on the topic of Donald Trump, he is still considering building a wall along the US-Mexico border and believes that he can fund it by adding solar to the wall.
Solar panels are clean energy and a standard sized system can offset the same amount of pollution in a year as 50 fully grown trees. Coal does not have a positive impact on the environment but cleaner ways to convert coal to energy have been developed. China has invested more money in wind and solar power to help combat air pollution (they have the worst pollution in the world). In fact, coal is one of China’s top contributors of air pollution-related deaths.