This idea is so simple I'm surprised no one has come up with it yet before me.
Photovoltaic solar energy (along with wind turbines, but this idea has mostly to do with solar energy) is the ultimate in green, carbon-neutral energy. It uses an existing energy resource (the sun's light) to generate energy and ultimately electricity. There are problems with the energy transfer efficiency, sure. But improvements are made every year in this department, and it doesn't make solar energy any less of a solution. It is fairly obvious that wind and solar energy is the future of energy production, since oil and coal are limited resources. Even nuclear energy, while clean and carbon free, produces radioactive waste that has to be disposed somehow. It too, is not a long term solution.
That said, photovoltaic solar panels are fairly expensive. The average homeowner probably can't afford to buy them. The average business typically doesn't see the need to invest in them. Given that the private sector cannot or will not lead the way with solar energy technology, that leaves the public sector to handle it. We'll get to why the public sector would possibly want to do this in a bit.
Now here's my idea. Since the government money is probably the only way solar energy can be implemented on a massive scale, the government will buy a massive amount of solar panels. This could be done with either money from the Department of Energy or the DoE could petition Congress for bailout money that was paid back. Personally I favor the latter, it invests the taxpayer money back in the communities. Where will we put all of these solar panels? On top of buildings already owned by the government: public schools. Elementary schools, middle schools, high schools and colleges. According to census data, there are 95,615 elementary and secondary schools in the US (this excludes higher education). This is more than enough physical space to install millions or solar panels. This has a multitude of benefits to both the schools and for the country and world at large. Which I will list and explain:
1) Benefit to Schools: Many schools throughout the country are struggling with a huge financial crisis. States are cutting educational budgets, forcing many schools to cut teachers, increase class sizes, and freeze or cut other types of spending that advances student achievement, such as the excellent program Parents as Teachers. This budget crisis has also forced many colleges to put the financial burden on student tuition, as we've seen in California and other states. Any kind of savings for schools would help. As Secretary Steven Chu states in his recent Huffington Post article, "the efficiency of buildings...account for 40% of US energy use." This includes schools, some of which are very old and in need of some of the weatherizing proposals he suggests that save money. But add in solar panels, and the cost of the energy that is needed to maintain a school will at least in part (if not in full) be provided by the sun, and thus at least partially free. This is a huge savings to schools, and one they desperately need now. It frees money to spent on improving schools and education rather than buying electricity.
2) Benefits to the Economy: Well, someone has to make the solar panels. Preferably this would be an American company, which would create a lot of jobs to mass produce solar panels, as well as transport the panels to schools all over the nation. But this also produce jobs for the people who have to install the panels. At a time when America is at around a 10% unemployment rate (higher in a lot of areas) who is going to deny thousands of good American jobs?
3) Benefits to America as a whole: This idea would dramatically reduce dependence on coal for electricity. Granted, coal would still be needed to provide electricity to homes and businesses until solar panels and wind turbines can be built and installed to provide this electricity instead. But this is a great first step towards clean, renewable, carbon neutral energy.
4) Benefits to the world: This plan would dramatically reduce carbon emissions. The US needs to take a huge step forward in addressing carbon emissions and the ongoing reality of climate change. This is that huge step. Even if citizens or lawmakers disagree that climate change is real, surely they can get behind one of the other benefits in this plan? The multitude of benefits to schools, the economy, and the nation cannot be denied.
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