It’s an alternative, but it’s not the only one.

Solar energy is often called an ‘alternative energy,’ a designation that underscores its departure from conventional power sources (even though all fuel sources on earth originate from the sun).

Solar energy is an ‘alternative’ to fossil fuels, even though:

  • Solar energy is an infinite, renewable resource.
  • Solar energy is free from emissions at the point of production (resources are used and emissions are produced in the production of panels, but they are subsumed by the lifetime net energy production).
  • Solar energy is an almost maintenance free source of power – once the panels are installed there is little to do but keep them clean.
  • The maximum power output of solar panels typically coincides with maximum power demand (during the day).
  • Solar energy production prevents less obvious forms of pollution, like the mining waste and water consumption/pollution associated with coal and nuclear energy.
  • Solar panels don’t require new land use when installed on existing structures (ie, your home).

Then why is solar the alternative and not the standard? Most of this we’ve already covered in the advantages and disadvantages of solar energy, but essentially, it’s the cost of solar panels.

Alternatives to Solar Energy

What about other renewable energy sources besides solar?

Alternative #1 – Wind Energy

Wind Energy Report

Wind is great, and is currently cheaper on ┬áper kWh basis than solar electricity, but it also has some major problems. First, (generally speaking) wind is only economical in large energy farms. Small home turbines are expensive and don’t produce enough power to be financially viable. Wind farms have their own issues, like land use, transmission, and aesthetics. Some reports have indicated that a network of wind turbines in specific areas, like the central plains states of the US, could easily supply several times current energy consumption.

Alternative #2 – Geothermal energy

Geothermal Energy Illustration

Geothermal is also economical, reliable, and sustainable, but is generally limited to areas near tectonic plate boundaries. Geothermal energy is not completely emissions free, as some greenhouse gases are emitted during production (much lower per unit than fossil fuels). Some reports have suggested that geothermal energy could supply 100% of the world’s energy needs; at the very least is is a largely untapped resource.