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UnThink Solar
a div of Impress Labs
811 Sansome St
San Francisco, CA 94111
United States

No. of Employees: 33
Phone: 415-395-0941

Time to Step up the Comparisons: Solar and Wind vs. Coal and Oil

The recent tragedies in West Virginia and the Gulf Coast have been an eye opener for the nation about the true, hidden costs of coal and oil. These costs include lives, jobs, and the enFlickr/TheBusyBrainvironment.

And yet, I still think the public needs to name what’s happened in order for politicians—and consumers— to resolutely move past the CO2 energy status quo.

So how do we define this tragic moment for our concerned but perhaps apathetic potential customers and lobby-pressured politicians? We need to give them strong comparisons. So, let’s do that right now.

First, before I—or you—make any comparisons, let’s acknowledge that these recent events are truly terrible tragedies. 29 miners and 11 oil workers are dead.  Children have lost  fathers and wives have lost husbands. Mothers and fathers are burying their sons. The comparisons below are not an “I told you so,” as much as they are real problems and real solutions for reducing these tragedies and energy problems in the future.

Many of these comparisons are obvious. However, I think when you make a simple list like this, it can inspire people to see the full picture of where we are and what can be done. If you have more to add, please do in the comments section.::continue::


Coal and Oil Problems

Solar and Wind Solutions

Costs going up.

Oil and coal may be a commodity, but the cost conitinues to rise and few see this trend reversing. And please don't tell me that oil, coal, and gas aren't heavilty subsidized.

Costs going down.

Solar PV prices continue to fall. In some states, the cost is now at "grid parity." Yes, it's subsidized, but so is coal and oil to a far greater extent. In the near future (2016?), solar PV may be able to sustain itself without subsidies. Amazing for such a young industry. Will oil and coal be able to say the same? I doubt their lobbyists will allow that. And don't forget once solar and wind are installed, the sun and wind are free.

Finite resources.

One day we will run out, especially as our populations increase.

Infinite resources.

The sun and wind shine and blow for the foreseeable future.

Environmentally hazardous to obtain.

Even under the best conditions, coal, gas, and oil companies destroy land and disturb water supplies to obtain these non-renewable energy sources. There are no exceptions.

Silicon and other materials are dramatically less hazardous.

The raw materials involved with creating solar PV panels do not require mountain top removal or drilling into the ocean. Most solar companies responsibly produce solar products, though there are exceptions.

Extremely dangerous occupations.

Despite advances in technology, the recent events are not the first deaths attributed to coal and oil production. This will not change, no matter how well trained the workforce is.

Relatively safe occupations.

Falling off a roof or wind tower and electrical shock are risks, but they are minimal for properly trained workers. It is difficult to imagine a catastrophic solar or wind accident that would cause 10 or 20 deaths in a single day.

Constant Pollution.

Coal refineries, oil refineries, coal power plants, gas powered car emissions—all of these contribute to poor air quality and health effects such as asthma, mercury poisoning, and cancer. Coal ash is another environmental hazard that is difficult and expensive to transport and properly dispose.

No Air Pollution.

Solar and Wind never cause air pollution. In fact, by implementing more solar and wind, we decrease air pollution.  

Cause of Global Warming.

I’m not going to debate the science here. If you don’t agree with the science, then take this point off your list. The other points remain valid.  

Solution for Global Warming.

As with the above point, implementing more solar and wind will help decrease and slow the effects of global warming.

Decreasing number of coal and oil jobs.

As coal mining becomes more automated, jobs will only disappear. The same with oil production, especially as we depend on more foreign sources. (Of course, we may find indirect job creation by increasing the size of our armed forces to protect the production and transport of oil. But is that really how we want to create jobs or use our armed forces?)

Increasing jobs.

The bad news is that the U.S. is way behind in RE production. That’s also the good news, because it means that coal and gas workers can be retrained for RE installation and distribution. The more the U.S. switches to RE, the more new jobs will be created. Manufacturing may be outsourced, true, but installation, sales, maintenance, and distribution solar and wind jobs cannot be outsourced in other countries.

Foreign Energy Dependence.

We can drill baby drill all we want, but the U.S. demand cannot be met by our domestic resources. Without RE, we will continue to import oil, risk super tanker spills, and be pressured to make political decisions based on our bad energy habits.


Energy Independence.

Starting in 2010, you’re going to see more electric cars in the U.S. Solar and wind can replace our current oil and coal needs to power these new cars. Only then will politicians be able to make foreign policy decisions that are independent of the price of oil and the money it takes to protect our foreign oil interests.

19th Century and Older Technology.

Surely, in 2010 we can do better than our ancestors, who heated homes and water with fire and created light with fire, oil, and coal. Must we show our children that we really haven’t progressed that much?

21st Century and Beyond Technology.

We’ve been to the moon and back! Let’s show our children that we’re way smarter than our ancestors. In fact, Solar PV, Solar Hot Water, and Wind are efficient and reliable ways to live much better than our ancestors today and provide a better world for our children tomorrow.


Now, I can see the oil and gas lobby spinning the above to say that there isn’t enough RE storage technology and that we need to upgrade our transmission infrastructure. RE also can't do it alone. All true.

So, yes, we currently still need oil, coal and gas and we must continue to support safety and environmental regulations for the power they provide us. But I hope you’ll use the above reasons to show your customers that 1) we don’t have to use as much CO2 fuels, and 2) the sooner we use solar and wind, the better and safer our world will be.

Thanks, and as always, Unthink Solar.

Tor Valenza aka “Solar Fred” advises solar companies on marketing, communications, and public relations. Contact him through Unthink Solar or follow him on Twitter @SolarFred.

Photo: Flickr/TheBusyBrain


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