Besides its environmental advantages, solar power has always had one great benefit: It's hyper local. Solar panels make it possible to generate electricity on-site, precisely where it's needed. Like a portable generator powered by the sun, solar energy promises power wherever the sun shines.
Solar power has three major benefits: It's renewable, it's great for the environment, and it can be produced right here at home.
There has always been one big problem with solar, however - the price. For years now, its high cost has always been the biggest weapon in every critic's arsenal.
But a study released last week suggests this objection is about to fall by the wayside for good.
There is an easy way to find out where the market thinks a particular sector is heading: Check out the movement of futures contracts held by top hedge fund managers. These days, the signal is clear and pointing in one direction. Check this out.
The market for sources such as solar, wind, and biofuel has collapsed.
There are two reasons. Both involve price.
First, while crude oil is beginning to move upward, and natural gas prices have increased by about 57% over the past three months, both had fallen to unusually low levels.
That means the primary ally of alternative sourcing - the acceleration in the price of hydrocarbons - has been absent.
Of course, there are environmental, lifestyle, and social considerations that would benefit from renewable energy. Taken by themselves, however, these do not have more than a marginal impact on the energy balance.
Price remains the main ingredient.
Solyndra famously imploded, the price of polysilicon dropped 60%, and a glut of natural gas has made it the "new" alternative energy source.
But make no mistake about it: alternative energy stocks are going to be long-term winners-especially for solar power investors.
For instance did you know that Germans are initiating a campaign valued at more than $260 billion to harness wind and solar power. It is already being called the biggest restructuring of the national energy landscape since the end of World War II.
Or that China plans to double its solar power capacity by installing three GW this year, according to China Daily.
And despite the recent declines, analysts expect European demand to rise again in 2012. UBS forecasts that solar power generation will rise from 21 GW in 2011 to 25 GW in 2012.
What's more, solar panel prices are expected to stabilize as a result of tighter inventories and improving demand.
That's increasing talk within the industry that pure-play alternative energy stocks could be gobbled up by oil companies or large-scale manufacturers.
With that in mind here are five solar power possibilities, including innovative companies, takeover targets, and companies that can compete on cost.
But surprisingly, amid all the rhetoric, there have been no real answers to some of the key questions driving the energy debate... until now.
Is President Obama truly responsible for high gas prices, and can his opponents really bring them back down?
What role has Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's loose monetary policy played in soaring energy costs?
Is more domestic drilling the answer?
Renowned energy expert Dr. Kent Moors answers all of these questions - and more - below.
Dr. Moors, an adviser to six of the world's top 10 oil companies and a consultant to governments around the world, also talks about the effect political turmoil in the Middle East could have on energy prices in the immediate term and how North America will gain energy independence in 15-20 years.
Here's what else Moors - a bona-fide energy expert - had to say...