It’s clear that solar energy has become an increasingly attractive option in recent years. In fact, the solar industry has grown 12-fold since 2006, and it now employs more than 2 million Americans, for instance. As the demand for renewable energy increases, we’ll likely see even more development in this industry. But with solar power now such a vital part of national energy plans, it’s important to look at what makes it sustainable before we go any further.

The quantity of solar energy that strikes the Earth in a single hour is greater than what the entire globe uses in a year. The figure from  the US Department of Energy states that: The sun sends 430 quintillion Joules of energy to the Earth every hour. That is 430 followed by 18 zeros!

The amount of solar energy that is reflected back into space on Earth is about 30%. Earth’s atmosphere absorbs the remainder. The heat from the radiation causes the Earth’s surface to radiate some of the energy back into space as infrared waves.

Understanding Energy Sustainability

The index for energy sustainability is calculated by measuring how much a household can have to power their needs. In some countries, over 70% of power generation is from renewable energy, which means that a huge proportion of people in those countries use renewables to generate electricity. When it comes to sustainability and generation of electricity, many households take advantage of solar powered systems for generating electricity in their homes. Nowadays, many households have increased their use of solar panels to save both money and contribute to lower emissions.

Assessing Each of the Three Dimensions: Security, Equitability and Environmental Impact

There are many factors that determine whether a nation’s use of energy is sustainable. In his book, The Infinite Resouce: The Power of Ideas on a Finite Planet, Peter Huber outlined these three main pillars: security, equity and environmental impact. Each of these three areas can be assessed independently by applying different indexes for each category.

Measuring Cities and Offgrid Area

Cities and offgrid locations are predicated on their scores for energy access following a standardized formula: 100 * (energy access score) / (% of population living in urban areas). Based on a 0-100 scale, 0 represents no access to electricity at all and 100 represents complete access to electricity, each country’s electric energy access score is represented as follows.

Best Practices for Improving a City’s Index

Some obvious measures can make a huge difference in a city’s index. Addressing weatherproofing of public and private buildings, urban forestry projects, and encouraging companies to install solar panels are some simple steps that can increase sustainability. Governmental bodies need to find ways to make electricity more affordable for citizens so that they are motivated in lowering their electricity consumption rate. Use of LED lighting is more environment-friendly than traditional lighting methods and helps reduce CO2 emissions by almost 50 percent per kilowatt hour.

Examples of Strong Sustainable Cities

Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Hamburg and Madrid. The city of Copenhagen is ranked as one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in Europe. They have a consistent policy for ensuring that bike lanes are safe and traffic calmed with car-free spaces. They have also been providing incentives such as free public bikes on select buses during rush hour commuting hours, low cost loans for buying bicycles and using them for transportation instead of owning a car.


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