Solar Energy in the United States

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Solar power is more affordable, accessible, and prevalent in the United States than ever before. Since 2008, U.S. installations have grown 35-fold to an estimated 62.5 gigawatts (GW) today. This is enough capacity to power the equivalent of 12 million average American homes1. Since the beginning of 2014, the average cost of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels has dropped nearly 50%2.

Markets for solar energy are maturing rapidly around the country, and solar electricity is now economically-competitive with conventional energy sources in several states, including California, Hawaii, and Minnesota. Moreover, the solar industry is a proven incubator for job growth throughout the nation. Solar jobs have increased by nearly 160% since 2010, which is nine times the national average job growth rate in the last five years. There are more than 242,000 solar workers in the United States, with manufacturing being the second largest sector in the solar industry.3

Increased solar energy deployment offers myriad benefits for the United States. Solar’s abundance and potential throughout the United States is staggering: PV panels on just 0.6% of the nation’s total land area could supply enough electricity to power the entire United States.4 PV can also be installed on rooftops with essentially no land use impacts. Concentrating solar-thermal power (CSP) is the other method for capturing energy from the sun, and seven southwestern states have the technical potential and land area to site enough CSP to supply more than four times the current U.S. annual electricity demand.

Despite this impressive progress, significant work remains before solar becomes as affordable as conventional energy sources and meets its full potential throughout the country. 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 74% of the cost of a residential system.5 Technological advances and innovative solutions are still needed to increase efficiency, drive down costs, and enable utilities to rely on solar for baseload power.

 

1 See: https://www.seia.org/news/united-states-surpasses-2-million-solar-installations

2 National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Solar Industry Update Q4 2018/Q1 2019.

3 The Solar Foundation. National Solar Jobs Census 2018.

4 National Renewable Energy Laboratory and U.S. Department of Energy. SunShot Vision Study. Feb. 2012. pp.4-5.

5 National Renewable Energy Laboratory. https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy19osti/72399.pdf