Solar power is more affordable, accessible, and prevalent in the United States than ever before. From just 0.34 GW in 2008, U.S. solar power capacity has grown to an estimated 97.2 gigawatts (GW) today. This is enough to power the equivalent of 18 million average American homes. Today, over 3% of U.S. electricity comes from solar energy in the form of solar photovoltaics (PV) and concentrating solar-thermal power (CSP).
Since 2014, the average cost of solar PV panels has dropped nearly 70%. Markets for solar energy are maturing rapidly around the country since solar electricity is now economically competitive with conventional energy sources in most states.
Solar’s abundance and potential throughout the United States is staggering: PV panels on just 22,000 square miles of the nation’s total land area – about the size of Lake Michigan – could supply enough electricity to power the entire United States. Solar panels can also be installed on rooftops with essentially no land use impacts, and it is projected that more than one in seven U.S. homes will have a rooftop solar PV system by 2030.
CSP is another method for capturing energy from the sun, with about 1.8 GW of capacity in the United States. The cost of electricity from CSP plants fell more than 50% from 2010 to 2020. If CSP cost reduction targets are met, studies show it could provide up to 158 GW of power to the U.S. by 2050.
Moreover, the solar industry is a proven incubator for job growth throughout the nation. American solar jobs have increased 167% over the past decade, which is five times faster than the overall job growth rate in the U.S. economy. There are more than 250,000 solar workers in the United States in fields spanning manufacturing, installation, project development, trade, distribution, and more.
Solar energy hasn’t reached its full potential as a clean energy source for the United States, and significant work remains to be done to drive deployment of solar technologies. Solar hardware costs have fallen dramatically, but market barriers and grid integration challenges continue to hinder greater deployment. Non-hardware solar “soft costs”—such as permitting, financing, and customer acquisition—are becoming an increasingly larger fraction of the total cost of solar and now constitute up to 65% of the cost of a residential PV system. Technological advances and innovative market solutions are still needed to increase efficiency, drive down costs, and enable utilities to rely on solar for baseload power.
In September 2021, the Energy Department released the Solar Futures Study, a report that explores the role of solar energy in achieving these goals as part of a decarbonized U.S. electric grid.
Read the latest on the solar energy market in the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Quarterly Solar Industry Update.
Learn more about the goals set by the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) to drive innovation and cost reductions.
Download the Solar Futures Study report.