Oil prices are rising as uncertainty grows over the fate of major producers like Russia and Iraq. Everything from transportation to manufacturing to a petroleum-intensive agricultural system is a puppet flailing on the strings of this volatile commodity.
Meanwhile, increased production of alternative power is finally making prices more competitive, particularly for solar energy, as former Vice President Al Gore recently pointed out in Rolling Stone. Costs have declined dramatically — 20 percent a year since 2010. This is not yet reflected in energy prices, however, largely because of the major tax breaks still extended to the dirty technology of the past.
Yet this shift to alternative energies is inexorable. The recent boom in natural gas from shale, which has glutted the market with cheap fuel, has delayed it. But as oil costs rise, the transition to alternative energy is again poised to accelerate.
Roughly 49 percent of new U.S. electrical-generating capacity in 2012 came from renewables. Battery storage and other aspects of solar technology are also now cheaper and far more efficient.
Solar still accounts for a small percentage of U.S. energy use. The United States currently produces 10 gigawatts of solar a year, powering about 2.4 million homes. But in the past five years, solar-power consumption has increased at a compound annual growth rate of 63.2 percent.