Jul 07 2016

Out of the Dark and into the Light- Coal and Solar Energy

Certain small coal mining towns fight any threat to their mine(s) which may or may not be the town’s main way of gaining sustenance. This is quite possibly the way they have operated ever since the industrial revolution, and while there have been many safety advancements, coal mining continues to be a treacherous occupation (Gibson). Coal no longer is the “cheap” energy source as natural gas and other renewable energy sources take center stage. However, it is tough not to sympathize with coal mining towns as they make the transition into a world which is less dependent on coal.

The coal industry is in a strong downturn due to many factors within the economy (Fehrenbacher). However, the light at the end of the tunnel may be the very energy that is in part responsible for forcing coal into decline: solar energy. Increased construction of solar farms may solve the employment problem for miners as they trudge out of the floundering coal industry (Pearce).


Image Courtesy Flickr Creative Commons

Even though solar energy and coal energy seem to be complete opposites, they can definitely benefit from working together. Coal miners exposed to less harmful particulate matter and working on safer job sites will be less likely to experience the detrimental health effects of coal. Providing this open window to the future may convince people who resist change in the energy sector to accept solar energy with open arms. In America’s market, jobs often do the talking.

Solar panels seem like the easiest way to harvest renewable energy. The technology has been developed, and installation, compared to other renewable energy sources, is relatively easy. Radiating energy from the sun is there for the taking. So why don’t we construct more solar farms? The simple answer is economics.

Ever since the industrial revolution, America’s economy has been centered around fossil fuels. The transition from fossil fuels to any source of renewable energy shall be a rocky one, but there is a growing necessity to find more energy sources to meet the hungry demands of modern America. Harvesting solar energy has become so efficient that the price differences are astounding (Nunez).

On the other hand, economic investments in the solar energy sector are still seen as risky as they have not been proven to provide a consistent return. Tesla’s buyout of SolarCity is one such example of a transition to a green economy considered to be a risk (Musk). The economy is not receptive of such transitions and will most likely resist these changes at first. Investors putting money down now are taking a risk, but not as much a risk as investing in an energy resource with a finite supply.


The word coal has a negative connotation for much of the American public. It is dark, it is sludgy, and it is a wide source of pollution. Acid rain from coal fire plants in Tennessee is causing degraded habitats in the North Carolina mountains. Coal ash ponds rupture and leak on a much to regular basis, but coal fire power continues to be supported by subsidies only because the economy is on auto-pilot. The sun conjures up images of summertime and children playing outside. Pollution is produced in small quantities by solar panels, compared to coal fire power plants that emit pollution during construction, operation, and decommissioning. The future of America is bright, not only with potential, but with the glowing solution of solar energy.


Works Cited

Nunez, Christina. “Solar Energy Sees Eye-Popping Price Drops.” National Geographic. National

Geographic Society, 2 Oct. 2015. Web. 17 July 2016.


Fehrenbacher, Katie. “That Crashing Sound Is The Fall Of The U.S. Coal Industry.” Fortune.

N.p., 14 Jan. 2016. Web. 17 July 2016. <http://fortune.com/2016/01/15/decline-us-coal-


Gibson, Kate. “Regulator Sounds Alarm over Deaths at Coal Mines.” CBSNews. CBS

Interactive, 3 Feb. 2016. Web. 17 July 2016. <http://www.cbsnews.com/news/regulator-sounds-alarm-over-deaths-at-coal-mines/>.

Musk, Elon. “Clouds Appear.” The Economist. The Economist Newspaper, 25 June 2016. Web.

17 July 2016. <http://www.economist.com/news/business/21701181-teslas-purchase-solarcity-bold-bet-worrying-one-clouds-appear?zid=313&ah=fe2aac0b11adef572d67aed9273b6e55>.

Pearce, Joshua. “Solar Industry Welcomes Coal Workers With Open Arms.” The Huffington

Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 21 June 2016. Web. 17 July 2016.




One response so far

One Response to “Out of the Dark and into the Light- Coal and Solar Energy”

  1.   Anna Cherryon 20 Jul 2016 at 12:07 am

    To reply to your note about the jobs provided by the coal mines, I found this map of the United States to show the emphasis on coal production in America.


    There was also a map that indicated the number of jobs that coal was providing compared to emissions.


    Lindsay, you were noting a direct turn over from mining to solar energy and that may raise a few red flags. First being the amount of land that is available to be used to conduct energy and also to account for the transmission of the energy. This is something that young dreamers like us often forget. Logistics and practicality of the insulations has a huge influence on decisions made. When looking at the map of solar potential compared to the places that use coal, there seems to be a disconnect. Sadly, the areas that use coal the most prominently tend to be the areas that lack the solar potential to take over the demands met by coal.
    You also mention that jobs are the reason that the economy depend on coal, and are the primary reason that we have not switched to solar. But the job market is not fed by current trends and short term projects. You even stated: “The technology has been developed, and installation, compared to other renewable energy sources, is relatively easy.” With this being said there seems to be a disconnect between the coal and solar worlds as a whole. The limited supply of jobs that solar creates is similar to those of the railroad construction, people would have to move around frequently in order to maintain in well standings and also to keep up with demands.


    I hope you can see the images without problem.