Our Long-Awaited Solar Power Future Is Finally Here

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Shorter Dave Roberts: solar power is for real.

Not the panels you put on your roof. Those are doing fine, but the real action is in medium-size solar arrays installed by utilities. The big news, Roberts says, is that utilities are starting to build solar plants even when state mandates don’t require it. They’re doing it because solar has finally gotten to the point where it’s cost effective all on its own:

The installed cost of big solar has fallen 50 percent since 2009, from $6.30/W to around $3.10/W at the end of 2014. Some projects were down as low as $2/W….The stretch goal of the Department of Energy’s 2011 Sunshot Initiative is to drive installation costs down to $1/W, which it says “would make solar without additional subsidies competitive with the wholesale rate of electricity, nearly everywhere in the US.”

The CEO of First Solar recently said that “by 2017, we’ll be under $1.00 per watt fully installed on a tracker in the western United States.” It appears costs are falling faster than almost anyone predicted.

Roberts points out two other benefits of solar. One is predictability: you don’t have to worry about volatile coal or gas prices. With solar, you know the capital and operating costs going forward for decades, and that makes planning a lot easier.

The second is political. In the same way that defense contractors like to make sure that every state gets a piece of big contracts, it helps when every state is seeing solar take off: “The more states where large-scale solar is a business interest, the more respect and assistance it will get from state politicians. As Jack Fitzpatrick notes in Morning Consult, ‘The number of U.S. House Republicans representing districts where there are utility-scale solar facilities increased from a measly 12 in 2008 to 88 in 2016.’ There are now as many Republicans as Democrats with solar power plants in their districts.”

Solar is not a panacea all by itself. To state the obvious, it only works when the sun is shining. But in combination with better storage technologies, other clean sources of electricity (wind, geo, etc.), and nuclear for baseload operation, a green electric grid is no longer a pipe dream. By 2020 solar will probably be the cheapest electric source around, and by 2040 I wouldn’t be surprised if fossil fuel electric generation is basically dead in the US. Welcome to the future.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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