Why Solar Power Depends on Oil and Natural Gas

Sustainability |  2 min. read

Our planet came equipped with an always-on, inexhaustible (ok, unless you’re planning to live another five billion years), clean source of energy.  Yes, that would be the Sun.

And if we were plants, that would be the end of the story.  Wake up each morning, lift our leaves, soak up all the energy we need.

But, we’re not plants.  And since we are people — we need some help to put that solar energy to work for us.

And we’ve found that help (including from a couple of sources that might surprise you).

First though, let’s look at the numbers (courtesy of the U.S. Department of Energy):

  • Since 2008, the amount of solar power produced in the U.S. has increased — not twice as much, or even ten times as much — but SEVENTEEN TIMES.
  • That’s enough to power almost SIX MILLION homes.
  • And while that output is rising, the cost has been falling; the price of solar panels has dropped more than SIXTY PERCENT, since 2010.

That’s all good. And since the Sun isn’t going anywhere, there’s more of that clean, affordable, always-on solar power to come in the future.

But as we said, to turn the Sun’s rays into power we can use — requires a little assistance.  Most of today’s solar power is made with photovoltaic panels.

And to make solar panels…

…you need all that.

Three of those layers — the EVA (or if you like the long version, ethylene-vinyl acetate) and the backsheet (made from polyester) — are made from petrochemicals — meaning chemicals made from oil or natural gas.  Ethylene is the primary building block to make EVA and xylene is used to make the polyester (think Mylar®) film back layer.

And if that is surprising, that we can’t make solar power (or wind power either) without petrochemicals — well, maybe it shouldn’t be.  The path forward — to energy that is cleaner, reliable, affordable and available to all of us — isn’t going to be just one path.  We’re going to need a mix of energy sources — and solar power is an important part of that energy future, but not the only part.  Well, unless you’re a plant.