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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 seventeen-fold from 1.2 gigawatts (GW) to an estimated 30 GW today. This is enough capacity to power the equivalent of 5.7 million average American homes.1 Since 2010, the average cost of solar PV panels has dropped more than 60% and the cost of a solar electric system has dropped by about 50%.
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, Texas, and Minnesota. Moreover, the solar industry is a proven incubator for job growth throughout the nation. Solar jobs have increased about 123% since November 2010, with nearly 209,000 solar workers in the United States.2
Increased solar energy deployment offers myriad benefits for the United States. As the cleanest domestic energy source available, solar supports broader national priorities, including national security, economic growth, climate change mitigation, and job creation. 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.3 PV can also be installed on rooftops with essentially no land use impacts. Concentrating solar 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.1
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 55% of the cost of a residential system.4 Technological advances and innovative solutions are still needed to increase efficiency, drive down costs, and enable utilities to rely on solar for baseload power.
2The Solar Foundation. National Solar Jobs Census. See: http://www.thesolarfoundation.org/national/
3National Renewable Energy Laboratory and U.S. Department of Energy. SunShot Vision Study. Feb. 2012. pp.4-5. See: http://energy.gov/eere/sunshot/sunshot-vision-study.
4National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Dec. 2013. See: http://www.nrel.gov/news/press/2013/5306.html.