Sunlight, a renewable source of energy, is the greatest source of potential energy on earth. However, only a fraction of the potential energy in sunlight that reaches the earth is captured and used to generate electricity. Every hour and a half, enough sunlight reaches the earth’s surface to meet the world’s energy needs for an entire year.2 The U.S. has enough renewable energy resources to generate 100 times the country’s electricity needs annually. Solar power has more potential for electricity production in the U.S. than any other renewable energy source. Despite this, renewable energy technologies in the U.S. harnessed only 0.2% of the total renewable energy potential available in 2020.Only 0.03% of the solar energy available in the U.S. is harnessed to generate electricity. The U.S. Department of Energy found that, of the solar energy technologies assessed, only 133 terawatt-hours of solar energy were produced in 2020 despite 386,646 terawatt-hours of potential solar energy being available.
Solar Energy Today
Ongoing global supply chain issues and logistical challenges threatened to stall growth in renewable energy through 2021 and the beginning of 2022. Despite this, solar continues to thrive. About 2.8% of the electricity generated in the U.S. is powered by solar energy. Solar accounted for 13.5% of electricity generated by renewable sources in 2021. Americans installed enough solar panels in 2022 to power 22 million homes.6 On average, a residential solar system costs $10,878–$21,756 in the U.S. 39% of the capacity added to the U.S. electrical grid in the first half of 2022 was from solar.New renewable capacity additions increased by 6% in 2021. Record-breaking growth despite supply chain bottlenecks, construction delays and high prices for raw materials and commodities shows the resilience of the renewable energy industry. Solar prices increased by 5% for residential systems and 14%–18% for commercial and utility-scale systems in 2021. These higher costs can be attributed to strong demand, supply chain issues and higher costs for freight, polysilicon and metals. Although solar has become more expensive in 2021 and 2022, the cost of non-renewable sources of energy like oil, natural gas and coal have increased even more rapidly.
The Future of Solar Energy
Favorable legislation and high demand for renewable energy sources mean the future of solar energy in the U.S. looks bright. Solar is set to account for 60% of the growth in renewable energy capacity in 2022.8 New solar additions are expected to break another record in 2023 with a nearly 200-gigawatt increase.8 The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), passed in August 2022, further incentivizes solar installations. Experts expect to see a 40% increase in solar installations between 2023 and 2027 because of the IRA.Experts expect ongoing supply chain constraints within the solar industry to prevent Americans from realizing the full benefits of the IRA until at least 2024.
The solar industry in the U.S. has grown by more than 200 times over since the solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) was introduced in 2006. The solar industry has added billions of dollars to the U.S. economy and has created hundreds of thousands of jobs.10 As of 2021, the U.S. solar industry employs 255,037 people in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. The number of solar workers in the U.S. increased by 9.2% between 2020 and 2021. That’s 21,563 jobs added.9 The number of people employed by the solar industry increased in 47 states in 2021. California added the most with 7,035 new solar jobs.Over the ten years between 2011 and 2021, solar jobs have more than doubled from 105,145 to 255,037. Women and minorities are underrepresented in the solar industry, especially African Americans. Less than 30% of solar employees are women (despite representing 47% of the workforce) and just 8% of solar employees are African American (despite representing 12% of the workforce).9 The solar industry has twice as many employees as the coal industry. Solar is the third largest energy industry employer, after petroleum and natural gas.The solar industry employs more people per unit of energy generated than the fossil fuel industry.
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