Social Reflections: Solar Panels and Space Ships


By Charles Collier, The Denmark News

The last two decades of public discourse on energy policy has inescapably been influenced through the lens of climate change and whether human combustion of fossil fuels contribute to a warmer planet and all associated existential risks. Advocates for alternate sources of energy are often relegated to unrealistic and reactionist corners of the dialogue.

In a move meant to signal a coming change not only in United States energy production but also in US manufacturing, one of President Obama’s first landmark decisions was to invest $535 billion into Solyndra, a company which had at the time developed new models for photovoltaic cells.

Speculation on exactly why the company went bankrupt shortly after continues today, but whether the cause was a diabolical structuring meant to waste tax dollars or if it was intellectual theft by China or India, a mindset of impossibility swept throughout the country as Obama went on to oversee the most domestic production of oil in American history.

Those skeptical or outright opposed to solar panel development as well calls for an overhaul of the American energy grid from coal to renewable resources could justifiably point to a poor cost-benefit ratio. Upfront costs of switching ones’ home power to solar panels can soar higher than $35,000 with no guarantee the performance of the cells won’t be outpaced in short time.
Today the cost for solar panels in the United States averages out to $3.57 per-watt pending the state and total energy usage. In 1996, the cost was closer to $6 per-watt and in 1977 a solar system would cost a homeowner $76.67 per-watt.

In the predictable world of technological progression, solar energy no longer is exclusive to ultra-rich or long-viewed individuals. Combined with many utility services subsidizing as much as half a homeowners’ solar panel transition, photovoltaic energy is a feasible reality for a fast-approaching future.

India may be the most distinct player in this new energy wave. The country with more than a billion inhabitants and 300 days of sun every year invested $400 million in 2015 targeted toward state energy production and attracted over $14 billion of investments for wind and solar manufacturing.

In an astounding 8 months, India-based infrastructure superpower Adani Group unveiled the world’s largest solar farm capable of producing energy for nearly 150,000 homes. This Kamuthi plant outdoes the formerly largest solar farm, Topaz in California, in energy production by over 100 kw/h and cost nearly $2 billion less to construct.

Compared with the United States’ 60 active solar panel companies, India’s 150 presents a clear decision for the future of American energy policy; fight like hell to make more powerful and effective solar cells to trade on a global market or accept the loss and try to innovate in other areas more open to competition.

Looking into other future fields, India is also investing heavily in re-usable space rockets. The Indian Space Research Organization has been working towards a ship capable of atmospheric exit and re-entry since the early-2000’s. After multiple developmental and experimental setbacks, the team had to table its initial target launch in 2009 all the way until earlier this year.

So far, American companies SpaceX and BlueOrigin have been the industry’s solitary competitors, though little more than successful experiments have been gained. SpaceX, which also produces the Tesla electric car as well as photovoltaic roof shingles, has met snags in the furtherance of its rocket technology over proposed cost for service.
Re-usable rockets would be employed by satellite companies and the organizations which operate them for repair and maintenance missions. Dreams of space tourism and asteroid mining aren’t necessarily unrealistic, but they are (so to speak) lightyears away.

SpaceX will be making history later this year as the first company to operate a commercially chartered space mission. For the speculatively low price of $60 million, the company’s flagship Falcon 9 will carry cargo for Luxembourg-based satellite fleet operator SES.

Even though America may be falling behind in green energy innovation, the companies which we foster have the visionary might to compete in other fields to help shape the future. America is supposed to be the land of opportunity, of freedom, of possibility; sometimes it simply takes the right person to help the rest of us understand this weary but resolute truth.