2017 Solar Scholarship Winner: Martin Francis (University of Michigan)

Solar Action Alliance is a group of environmentalists who want to spread the word about the most clean, reliable, and abundant source of renewable energy: the sun.

The Business of Solar by Martin Francis (University of Michigan)

As a student in the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, I am taught that making a positive impact on the world is the most important thing I can do with my career and with my life. While this is a broad goal, to me it means placing the welfare of our earth as a higher priority than the welfare of our economy. However, these goals do not have to be in opposition with each other. Fortunately, I have found that protecting our environment stimulates economic growth. It excites me that the widespread implementation of solar energy would have an overall positive impact on our economy.

Several projects come to mind when I consider how renewable energy (especially solar) can sustain financial success. For example, Tesla’s Solar Roof is a clear example of how a solar-generated energy source can be an attractive product to the average consumer. The sleek design of the shingles, along with their incredible durability, make this product an obvious choice for savvy contractors and home owners. Another product I think of is the SOL solar-powered laptop. This is the world’s first laptop that runs entirely by the power of the sun. In the U.S.A., we often take for granted the fact that our energy infrastructure is so reliable. However, for places around the globe where energy is not always readily available, SOL is a perfect option for computer users.

As products like these continue to develop, there is a clear hope for having both environmental and economic success. Solar energy is the best renewable resource because of its potential to produce large amounts of power while still being accessible to the masses. An article by EnergySage.com states that “If the average household consumes 11,000 kWh per year and we assume 250 watt solar panels, we can use the high and low panel production ratios to calculate an average. Thus, the typical homeowner will need 28 – 34 solar panels to cover 100% of energy usage.” This means that solar is a viable option to those who are considering converting their power grid to solar energy. Not only can solar save you money in the long run, but it is also clearly better for the environment. Historically, the average price of coal has been around $0.06 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh). While steam can be as low as $0.05 cents/kWh, and small scale natural gas can be as inexpensive as $0.03 cents/kWh, it is no comparison when looking at the cost of solar energy. Recently, solar technology has become increasingly price competitive when compared to fossil fuels at prices as low as $0.029 cents per kWh!

I have always valued the importance of the environment as well as economic sustainability when considering implementation of new technology. Solar technology not only protects the environment by reducing the amount of pollutants we dump into our ecosystem, but it also is a wonderful alternative to fossil fuel energy production when comparing the cost of both technologies. With solar technology gaining momentum as a player in the worlds energy production, it is clear to see the exciting change that many individuals are taking by converting to solar energy production.


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