10 Facts About Solar Energy That Might Surprise You
After decades of development and political debate about solar energy, the industry is finally ready to stand on its own. Solar power projects around the world are beating fossil fuels on price without subsidies, and each time they do, the future looks a little brighter.
But there’s still a lot most people don’t know about solar energy. Here are 10 things that may surprise you.
1. Solar power is the most abundant energy source on Earth
There’s enough solar energy hitting the Earth every hour to meet all of humanity’s power needs for an entire year.
Every ounce of oil, every lump of coal, and every cubic foot of natural gas could be left in the ground if only we could capture one hour’s worth of solar energy each year. That’s the scale of the opportunity.
To put the it into a different perspective, if we covered the Mojave Desert with solar arrays, it would generate more than twice as much electricity as the U.S. uses annually .
2. Solar panel costs have fallen 99% since 1977
In 1977, it cost $77 per watt for a simple solar cell. According to Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research’s Q3 2017 Solar Market Insight Report, the cost of a solar cell now is $0.21 per watt. An entire assembled module is $0.39 per watt.
3. Solar Energy is cheaper than fossil fuels
According to Lazard’s Levelized Cost Of Energy Analysis–Version 11.0 , solar energy costs as little as 4.3 cents per kWh on an unsubsidized basis , cheaper than nearly every option for new fossil-fuel power plants. The cheapest fossil fuel option is natural gas, which costs between 4.2 and 7.8 cents per kWh.
Depending on where you’re looking at producing solar energy, it’s probably already cheaper than coal, diesel, nuclear, and in most cases, natural gas, particularly in the Southern U.S. If the pattern of cost reductions is any indication, it won’t be long before solar blows away every form of fossil fuel on a cost basis.
4. Solar power plants can last 40 years or more
When a solar power plant is built, it’s usually backed by a power purchase agreement with a customer (utility, business, or homeowner) that lasts 20 to 25 years. But that doesn’t mean such plants will be worthless two decades later.
Not only will solar panels last 40 or 50 years, the infrastructure around a solar power plant has a lot of value. Solar panels could be replace with new, more efficient modules at relatively low cost, thus improving performance, but once a site is established and the infrastructure is built, a solar power plant has a very long effective lifespan.
5. China is the world leader in solar energy … by a lot
Solar energy is starting to get a lot of attention in the U.S., but we’re small fish compared to China. In 2017, GTM Research estimates that the U.S. will install 12.4 GW of new solar power systems. China installed 24.4 GW in the first half alone, and will likely pass 50 GW for the full year.
To put China’s 2017 solar installations into perspective, that 50 GW of solar would power 8.2 million U.S. homes.
6. California is the U.S. star in solar
No state in the U.S. has driven the solar industry forward more than California. Not only is it No. 1 in solar installations by a wide margin with 19.7 GW installed at the end of 2016, it gets 14% of its electricity from solar — a greater percentage than any other state, according the SEIA .