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The Socio-Economic Benefits of Solar Energy

Solar Panels

Before discussing the various socio-economic advantages of solar energy, it is imperative to understand the global economic structure. This will give a better understanding of the benefits.

Comprising of seven continents of North America, South America, Africa, Europe, Asia, Australia and Antartica, the world map looks like a huge land mass floating on water. Among these seven continents, only 6 are inhabited, with the most populated continents being Asia, South America and Africa.

The socio-economic backgrounds of these continents are dissimilar to each other. While North America comprises of developed and developing nations, South America has all developing countries. The same goes for Asia and Africa.
Looking at the economic conditions of these regions, it is clear that not every region has the same resources and economic structure. The under-developed and developing countries of Asia and Africa need solar power to ensure a proper development program.

Now let's have a look at the benefits of solar energy:

  • - Less investment during installation: Apart from the initial investment in solar panels, there is no other cost involved in the generation of solar power. The savings made from going off-grid can easily be invested in other projects. This can not only be done by different industries, but also individuals. Commercial solar projects can be profitable for many industries as these ensure the use of solar energy for powering different machines and equipment.

    - Power in remote areas: There are many areas like mountains, forests and islands, which do not receive power, owing to their remote location. Solar power is certainly a blessing in disguise for these areas. Remote and rural areas are now taking advantage of power to initiate different development projects in their areas. Consequently, education and medical facilities have increased in these areas by the introduction of solar power.

    - Lower power costs: The ever increasing cost of fuel and power has become a big issue for many under-developed and developing countries. The socio-economic condition of people living in these areas is not as per the normal standard. Hence, it becomes imperative to provide these people with cheap power and energy. The governments in these areas look for options, like solar energy, to initiate a better and proper distribution of power. This has also helped these people to grow and develop themselves so that they can erase the economic inequality in the country.

    - Power in the hand of the masses: The control of energy and manufacturing is still in the hands of the capitalists, which is increasing the exploitation of the masses. The biggest weapon in the hands of the capitalists is energy and power. Solar energy shifts this power in the hands of the masses as communities and smaller groups can easily go off the power grid.

The benefits of solar energy are ever increasing with different technologies coming up. The research and development of various solar plants will surely create a sense of equality among different economic groups in the world.


Julia Young's picture

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Malcolm Rawlingson's picture
Malcolm Rawlingson on September 18, 2014
Interesting perspective Julia but may I point out a few difficulties I have with your arguments.

1. What does one do for electricity at night. When solar panels cease to generate in the night time hours in developed countries the electrical energy required to operate equipment - both household and industrial - is provided by the grid. Without the grid either electrical energy is required to be stored or all electrical appliances stop operating. Not very convenient.

2. Solar panels cannot be manufactured at home or in the African bush or the Amazon Jungle. They are made in factories owned by "capitalists". I am assuming that your use of the term capitalist includes the operators of large pension funds that support millions of retired persons around the world. While I hear a certain dislike of capitalism in your article it would seem to me that without capital the manufacture of Solar panels would not be possible. You cannot have your cake and eat it too.

3. What does one do for electricity on cloudy days. Output of solar panels rapidly decreases when clouds pass overhead. I observed this effect first hand when asked to witness it at my neighbours house who has a solar installation on his roof. The effect of even a few small clouds is quite dramatic. Cutting power output in half in a matter of seconds. Of course with the grid there to supply the difference there is no effect in his home. Should the grid not be there any electrical appliances would likely burn out due to rapid voltage and current fluctuations.

4. In order to make intermittent power systems work electrical energy storage is required. This can be done on a small rural scale with lead acid batteries and it can be quite effective but really only on a small scale - perhaps that is all you need but to remove the hard work and drudgery of places such as Africa and South America requires much more energy than you anticipate.

5. The storage systems necessary are also not readily made in those countries you speak of. Once again it seems to me that batteries, voltage regulators and control systems required to do this are made by capitalist countries. Indeed most of this equipment is made in China which is a communist-capitalist country.

6. The manufacture of solar panels requires exotic materials. Rare Earth metals, Silver and Platinum to name a few. Once again it is very difficult to extract and refine these materials and all of that processing is performed in capitalist countries.

7. The case for not having to invest in large scale electrical grid systems is a good one except I know of no modern country with a half decent standard of living that has accomplished that using distributed energy systems. While I am not saying it cannot be done my feeling is that a reasonable standard of living includes the distribution of fresh water (very energy intensive) and the ability to produce food cheaply. Neither of those attributes can easily be accomplished using an intermittent power supply.


Ferdinand E. Banks's picture
Ferdinand E. Banks on September 19, 2014
No benefits, Julia. Just a lot of lies and misunderstandings.

The LEFT party in Sweden, and the environmental party, say that in 25 years there will be no nuclear in Sweden, which is Another way of saying that wind and solar will have be supply much of the energy needed to maintain the standard of living. That arrangement would mean that the Social.Democratic party - at one time one of the most progressive political parties in the World - would be down for the Count, and the racist/fascist parties would have the wind at their backs.

What is going on in Germany today is a malicious experiment whose purpose is to buy Another term or two for Angela Merkel and her party. Fortunately it will fail, and when Swedish voters get the message the crazy talk about wind and solar will disappear.

Ferdinand E. Banks's picture
Ferdinand E. Banks on September 20, 2014
Amy Gleich on OilPrice Com chooses the 10 most energy efficient cities in the world, one of which is Copenhagen. “Green looks good”, she says, and also mentions the wind farms in Denmark, which is the promised land for wind based energy.:

But she forgot something, didn't she? The price of electricity in Denmark is the highest in Europé, and solar-friendly Germany Clocks in as number 2. Of course, what I want is for Sweden to stop exporting electricity to Denmark and Germany at the present price, but to charge them more. By the way, speaking of wind friendly Denmark. One of the last times that I stayed in a hotel in Copenhagen, there was a drug dealer on every corner in the neighborhood where the hotel was..

Malcolm Rawlingson's picture
Malcolm Rawlingson on September 22, 2014
I think the point of Julias article was that in countries where there is currently no grid you can build an economy based only on distributed generation of electricity. It is an interesting concept but impractical because the building blocks are manufactured elsewhere. It works as long as there is another country off shore that is doing exactly the opposite. You cannot build a Utopian solar society without solar panels and making them uses a great deal of electrical and fossil fuelled energy. In other words it only works when someone else makes them.

As far as I can see neither solar panels nor windmills grow on trees in Africa. Someone has to make them. Someone needs to dig the silver out of the ground to make the low resistance contacts necessary (heavy use of fossil fuel). Someone needs to mazke the aluminium or steel frames to support them (aluminium is an intense user of electrical power because it is refined from Bauxite) and of course someone has to make the solar cells themselves which requires very high purity materials. So everywhere you look in the solar panel manufacturing process there is energy use. Some of it is fossil fueled. Some of it is electrical energy. In other words you need an energy intensive capitalist economy to make them for you.

The concept of an all DG system is copied from the cell phone analogy but it really has no paralleles in the electricity business because of the simple fact that the Sun does not shine at night and you need electricity in the night time hours.

You either have to store the electricity in some sort of battery or you use a grid system to supply the power when the solar panels are off line due to no energy source.

As I have repeatedly said here the key to renewables and DG is electrical energy storage on a large scale that is cheap. That of course is the very thing we do not have. many promising technologies out there but none developed to the point of commercial utilisation.

Copenhagen is a very small country with very small energy needs so while it is possible to run it partially on wind energy Denmark must import electricity (from Sweden) when the wind does not blow sufficiently strongly. That requires a grid.

The model which is most likely to succeed where solar is concerned is that proposed in Saudi Arabia. The Saudis are planning a very large solar installation together with 16 nuclear power plants as well as desalination plants. The nuclear facilities will provide the power at night and when water demand is high and the soilar panels will operate during the day when demand is highest. This makes eminently more sense than installing a solar panel on every roof top in Saudi Arabia.


Don Hirschberg's picture
Don Hirschberg on September 23, 2014
Only a few sentences into the article I encountered:” ...the most populated continents being Asia, South America and Africa.” I did not read any further.

Asia, with about 4.2 billion has about 60% of world population. Africa and Europe are a distant 2d and 3rd, and far ahead of South America.

Ferdinand E. Banks's picture
Ferdinand E. Banks on September 24, 2014
Speaking of not Reading or listening any further Lieutenant, I wonder what you would have done if you had been in the Reichstag when Mr Hitler declared war on the US. I mean, we are hearing and Reading things now about energy in the same category.
Don Hirschberg's picture
Don Hirschberg on September 24, 2014
Thanks for giving me a lead-in to respond professor. I could give a very long answer but I also have a very short one: Every day I ;am faced with stuff to read that is orders of magnitude greater than my ability to read. Ergo I must cull most. It is easy to cull an article that is factually wrong in an area in which I have a modicum of knowledge lest being deceived or misinformed about things I cannot judge competently.

Green houses work because of the Greenhous Effect. But I don't think it has yet been shown that the computer models of earth climate are valid. It's not like the multiplication tables or the population of the continents where we can say right and wrong with confidence.

Your quite curious reference to Herr Hitler puts me in mind of the quip: “Who you are speaks more loudly than what you say.” (I am at a lose to name anything Hitler did that was smart – from insulting Jesse Owens to invading the USSR.)

Ferdinand E. Banks's picture
Ferdinand E. Banks on September 24, 2014
"Who you are speaks more loudly than what you say". Suddenly I find myself thinking of our President, and the gentleman who preceded him to the White House. Both of them probably mean well for our country, but 16 years of their blunders is a bit too much.
Malcolm Rawlingson's picture
Malcolm Rawlingson on September 26, 2014
Thanks Don and Fred. Some astute observations.

Yes India and China alone are over a third of the world population.

What bothered me more about the article was that Julia - clearly an intelligent young person - has bought into this idea and is not asking the fundamanetal questions for herself. But even smarter and more experienced people believe that solar panels can create the power necessary to not only maintain our current (rather pitiful for most) standard of living. Unfortunately there is a very big disparity between what can be done with solar energy and what is required to be done just to keep the standard of living we have let alone increase it for the billions now on the planet and the inexorable billions yet to come.

I do not promote the use of nuclear energy because I am indoctrinated with the industry...although I have worked in it for a very long time. I promote it because it is the only and I do mean the only way in which billions upon billions can ever hope to have access to electricity without polluting the world we live in and destroying all the great things the planet has to offer.

Even then, as Don has accurately pointed out here many times the sheer number of power plants required is mind boggling and I am not even convinced that the industry in its current state can do it.

Sadly that commits billions to continue to live in poverty which is exactly the opposite of what Julia wants. Going the solar route will absolutely guarantee that the poor will get poorer and the rich will get richer.

Julia needs to understand that solar panels are made by Corporations operating under the Capitalist system. Sony, Panasonic, LG and hundreds of others who are capitalising on this gross misunderstanding of the energy requirements of this planet.

I am not supposing that solar panels do not have a place in the energy production picture, they do, but to promote them as the solution to the world energy requirements to the exclusion of all other technologies - especially ones that can solve the problems of the "third world" - is really defeating her own objective.

The article did provide me with an insight as to how the younger generation thinks about this problem which means I need to redouble my educational efforts to taech them what really needs to be done.


Malcolm Rawlingson's picture
Malcolm Rawlingson on September 26, 2014
Mr Hitler was not smart - but he was smart enough to surround himself with smart people. The moment he stopped listening to those around him and started listening to himself is when the third Reich fell apart. That is why he invaded Russia - aganst all the advice of his people and that idiotic decision was the beginning of the end.

All I can say is thank God his own stupidity got in the way. Sadly millions of Germans and millions of men and women from other countries paid an awful price for his ambitions......and we never learn do we?


Ferdinand E. Banks's picture
Ferdinand E. Banks on September 27, 2014
My comment is this. I have written a very elementary book on energy economics, about 200 pages in my computer, and the good Energy Pulse folks have provided a link to it from my bio, which the Enerrgy Pulse people have also provided, somewhere.

That book is NOT a Money thing. It was written especially for people like Julia, who are smart and interested in this very important issue, but for some reason or Another have gotten off to a bad start. Something like the even younger Fred Banks who was dumped from engineering school after being pronounced hopeless by the Dean of engineering at IIT.

Don Hirschberg's picture
Don Hirschberg on September 27, 2014
;Young people used to be much younger. When twelve year-old of my era heard “From each according to his ability and to each according to his needs” they thought this was a great slogan. Our grade school teachers would not have called themselves communists or Fellow Travelers but they were of a decidedly pink hue. We were in the Great Depression and it was very easy to say capitalism doesn't work

I didn't think I was too young to be drafted whether in WWII nor the Korean War, I was in both cases though my active duty in WWII was almost nil. (I was a volunteer in both cases but since I was IA my draft board got credit, quite reasonably. My timing could not have been worse. I got no GI Bill schooling from WWII because my service was so short. I had already paid for 6 years of schooling (Ch E Professional Degree) before entering the Korean War Army so I never used any benefits.

Getting back to “young people” In Korea the men in my Separate Platoon (almost the size of a company) would have refereed to me as the “the old man”.- that's the best I could hope for. I hope they did. I was 25. .

Ferdinand E. Banks's picture
Ferdinand E. Banks on September 29, 2014
Instead of you using the army, Lieutenant, it sounds as it they used you. No GI Bill at all, you say.

The GI Bill gave me Everything. Had I not married I would have gotten Another 3 years, because I had been asked to pay a visit to Vietnam.

Don Hirschberg's picture
Don Hirschberg on September 29, 2014
I made a search :Julia Young Vista Solar. I got a long list of hits, seems they all feature a picture of Julia.

I am looking at one site now. It's titled celsias (lower case followed by a super script degree symbol) and Vista Solar 10 degree symbol and this text:

“Vista Solar Inc., a fully owned subsidiary of SVM Inc., is a California based renewable energy systems integrator. Started in the year 2007, Vista Solar has become an award winning solar energy designing and Installation Company, serving the agriculture and commercial markets all across the Californian region.”  

Note the “ 1 ;member” .Picture of Julia.

I have taken a brief look a another site which conveys an anti capitalistic theme. Anti establishment and back to nature stuff. I saw no facts presented but then there are lots of sites I didn't sample.

Shabbir Jafferji's picture
Shabbir Jafferji on September 29, 2014
To manufacture a 300watt pv module needs less than 100kwh of energy based on the quantity of Aluminium, glass and silicone required, all items which can be recycled. In a life cycle of just 20years it will generate about 9000kwh, based(worst case scenario) on only 20% harvest per day(24 Hrs) and 300 days of sunshine in the developing countries being discussed. Therefore let us not deliberate too much on input output energy ratios. Solar perhaps outweighs all fossil-fueled generation. Based on economics, energy costs from Solar plants are now almost at Grid Parity, and becoming more competitive with ever increasing price reductions in pv modules and BoS/BoP prices. It is established that levelized electricity costs from Solar is now less than from fossil-fired plants. No GHG emissions, totally non-polluting, no major skills for O&M requirements, anyone advocating non-solar alternatives, I regret to say is still living in the past. With storage(when no sunshine) problems, I agree that solar is to be considered as a Complementary Supply where Grid power is available but certainly a power of choice with Supplementary Back-up in Non-Grid and Distributed Generation cases. Finally in the matter of economics, Solar is fast catching up. So far Solar is concerned, Julia is on the right track and should not be be dissuaded from pursuing these ideas. This is where the future lies. Let our children inherit a better planet than what we have turned it into.
Malcolm Rawlingson's picture
Malcolm Rawlingson on September 29, 2014
I would like to see the sourse of your numbers Shabbir. They are vastly different from the numbers I have seen from reputable sources.The energy input to energy output numbers are approximately the same as for nuclear power in those studies.

But as with all solar enthusiasts you miss the point. The point is that when the Sun is not shining or at less than full output (80% of the time by your own numbers above) something else must be there to take its place or the lights go out and the motors stop. Note that to run a motor you also need an inverter since solar generates DC power. Almost always that is some form of fossil fuelled plant in developing nations. Therefore solar power does not do very much for these economies since they must deploy fossil fuelled plants anyway. If they use battery storage it is even worse.

I really must disagree with you that we have left the world a worse place to live. When I lived in London England thick sulphur fogs were the order of the day and when atmospheric inversions occured the death toll from these fogs was in the thousands. That does not occur in London any more and has not for over 50 years.The improvement was largely a result of nuclear power and natural gas being substituted for coal as the major source of energy. The air in most large cities (in North America) is far cleaner than in years past. Rivers are becoming cleaner too with chinook salmon now doing the breeding run from Lake Ontario to many of the rivers and streams of Toronto. I saw them last week - thousands and thousands of large healthy fish. Hardly a sign of a wrecked environment.

While I am sure that nations such as China and India have - and continue to pollute - their air and water that is mostly because they have used the disregard for the environment as a means to produce products cheaper. Products - including solar panels - that we gladly buy. Solar panels are getting cheaper primarily because they are now almost all made in China and because manufacturing them is done without any regard for the environment.

I would suggest to you that if you pull back the squeaky clean image of solar as a non pulluting energy source you will rapidly discover that is is one of the worst polluters of all.

So when you say solar is getting cheaper - remember the poor Chinese workers who are making them for you at dirt poor wages and wrecking the environment of China in the process.

I have seen that side of the solar story and it is not a pretty sight.


Ferdinand E. Banks's picture
Ferdinand E. Banks on September 29, 2014
"Based on economics, energy costs from solar plants are almost at grid parity." That cant possibly be right, can it? And that is the trouble. Teachers of energy economics have failed their students. They have failed to eliminate nonsense from their lectures, and so now we have innocent people (like Julia) being told that things like the 'energiwende' in Germany makes sense.
Ferdinand E. Banks's picture
Ferdinand E. Banks on September 30, 2014
When it comes to energy in Germany, Jeffrey Michel is the man I listen to. He is an MIT graduate living in Hamburg. A German Economist that made a lot of sense is Claudia Kempfert, but to my great surprise, Professor Kempfert has signed onto the Energiwende team. At the same time she admits that "Germans were extremely concerned about climate change and the dangers of nuclear Power. Now they are afraid of the Energiwende. Right on Frau Professor. They are afraid of it because it will cut the ground out from under their standard of living. Just yesterday I saw an interview with Lord Stern, a gentleman whose appearance in Stockholm I comment on in the first chapter of my book. The program was the BBC 'HARDTALK', and he was concerned with the damage that fossil fuels usage today will cause in a hundred years or so. I wonder what Don Hirshberg would say about that? What kind of global population are we going to be dealing with in 2114 Don? When Lord Stern was the mathematical economist Professor Stern, I thought that he had something on the ball. Now I know better.
Don Hirschberg's picture
Don Hirschberg on October 1, 2014
From 1914 to 2014 population went up by a factor of 6.32. Applying this rare for 2114 gets us to 45.5 billion. Or to make the arithmetic more impressive take the 1914 population and multiply it by 1.0186 to the 200 th power..(i.e a growth rate of 1.86.). But this is only arithmetic.

Carbon is not a plentiful element on the planet. We find it in things alive and formerly alive and limestone. I saw just yesterday that 40% of animals have disappeared in recent decades - almost no time at all. Their carbon tissue has rotted or been eaten in either case is now CO2 in the atmosphere.

Looking at the dismal condition of this huge population one cannot help wondering if a therapeutic nuclear war ;maybe 50-60 years ago might find a better world today. Everything is going in the wrong direction. Education and experience have taught us nothing. Nothing fails quite like prayer and education. I know, I know this kind of thinking should be streng vorboten

Richard Vesel's picture
Richard Vesel on October 7, 2014
There is no overnight solution, but a century long conversion is certainly and realistically possible.

Don, the UN estimates world population to be between 9 billion (very low estimate) and 17.5B (on the very high side) by 2100. A rational estimate is 10.5 to 11 billion. Certainly far more than we should be willing to accept, but if that's the peak level, and we get a lot smarter about how we approach supply, consumption and disposal issues, it would be supportable.

As for the author's claims that the capitalist energy suppliers have the poor by the gonads, I would suggest that it is only the oil biz that can claim that, and they are not, in for the most part, a producer of electricity. Weaning populations off of fossil oil now, and fossil fuels in general, eventually, would be a noble goal of the Green Party. Pity they don't have an R&D organization that invents the solutions to their issues, too. Well, trumpeting good solutions will have to do...

IEA says 22% of global electricity production was from renewable sources, up from 21% in 2012. Huzzah!


Don Hirschberg's picture
Don Hirschberg on October 7, 2014
First, I made it eminently clear that I did not predict world population in 2114.

I say we ALREADY have more people than we can handle. Every year we have more people on earth WITYHOUT electric service – while every year burning more coal, natural gas and oil. That we are making more electricity from wind and solar doesn[t really matter. It Hasn't reduced fossil fuel usage. It hasn't even bent the curve. And this is under the best oof situations..

Alas, I am not even able to contemplate a solution of the population/energy dilemma even amusing I were God yet obeying the laws of nature and arithmetic.

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