Solar Energy

By: Robert Laine March 19, 2018

This week, I would like to discuss renewable energy. Specifically, solar panels. At some other time, I will cover aero and hydro.


The U.S.A. has a capacity (not actual output) of 18,317 megawatts (MW) of energy according to Business Insider. (A megawatt is one million watts; a kilowatt (kW) is 1000 watts and the average American home uses 7200 kW-hours annually, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists' website.) We are not number one. Not even number two. We are number five. Among the top four countries, all but one, are smaller than most of our states. According to the International Energy Agency’s 2014 “Trends in Photovoltaic Applications” report, the top 10 solar-powered nations are: 10. South Korea 9. Belgium 8.Australia 7. Spain 6. France 5. U.S.A. 4. Italy 3. Japan 2. China 1. Germany.


It would seem that China is beating us in more ways than one. We’re number one! We’re number one! Go team. Make America great again.


China has been providing most of our solar panels and the cost has dropped by 70 percent in the last ten years. But in January the Trump administration imposed 30 percent tariffs on imported solar panels, which will decline to 15 percent in the fourth year.


Impoverished communities that have benefitted from low-cost solar energy would have been denied under this ruling. One such community is Triangle Court Apartments in Richmond, California, where after installing solar panels, they were able to save 98 percent on energy costs (to put in perspective, this would be the same as paying $100/month originally and now paying $2/month with solar for the same usage). In the future, this decision will make installing solar in depressed urban areas cost prohibitive.


Geographically, we are larger than every country on the list with the exception of China. Yet, all these countries that are no bigger than the state of Texas are close to our performance in solar energy or doing better than we are. Re-read the above paragraph.


Germany just reported a new record for solar and is now getting 85 percent of all energy from renewables – so much so that it no longer needs to subsidize solar companies or consumers, as reported last May. The U.S., however, is still subsidizing fossil fuel and coal companies, and punishes green energy companies.


Germany, for example, has 2.5 times the landmass of Illinois, yet it can provide 60 percent of its energy needs through solar power. Illinois, on the other hand, is the biggest nuclear energy producer in the U.S.


A common complaint/concern from naysayers of solar energy is that the U.S. doesn’t get enough sunlight. Completely untrue. Here is a fun fact, kids: Berlin, Germany has a latitude of 52 degrees 31 minutes North, whereas Chicago is 41 degrees 54 minutes North. (The equator is 0 degrees North. The farther north you go, the larger the latitude number.) If Germany can get plenty of sunlight at the same latitude as Canada, why can’t the U.S.? Guess what, we get more. So why don’t we go for it on solar? The answer follows.


In the “sunshine” states (code for the Deep South), energy companies (fossil fuels and coal) have pushed states to pass laws against green energy to the extent that, in some cases, it is illegal to own and use a solar panel and the consumer can be sued. In South Carolina, several churches and schools lost their contracts for free solar panels because of legal threats by the local energy company (


Stayed tuned for how conservatives have and still are further lying to us about solar energy.


Robert M. Laine has been working in the IT industry for 30+ years. He has a B.S. in Computer Science. He has worked for the Chicago Tribune IT group and as the in-store technician for Staples. You can email him with questions or comments at and visit