16 useful solar energy and solar market facts

Facts about solar

The U.S. solar industry has witnessed remarkable growth in the past decade while the cost of solar has declined by nearly 70 percent. Prices reached an all-time low in Q4 of 2020 across all segments of the industry, meaning solar energy has never been more affordable and accessible. Now that solar has entered the mainstream, everyday homeowners are starting to wonder how much solar could save them and how simple making the switch really could be. If you're considering installing solar panels, it's helpful to understand the big picture of solar power. In this article, we'll break down sixteen solar energy facts that shed some light on key parts of the industry.

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Key takeaways

Solar energy is rapidly expanding in popularity. Using photovoltaic panels, we can convert the sun's energy into usable electricity and power our homes, businesses, and more. As the solar industry reaches a higher and higher percentage of the population, information on the science, logistics, installation processes, and best providers is sought after like never before. Read on to learn about some solar energy facts that may surprise you.

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic negatively impacted many industries, but not the solar industry. According to SEIA, solar panel installations shot up 43 percent (19.2 gigawatts of output) in 2019. In the fourth quarter alone, the US added 8 gigawatts (GW) of solar energy to the grid – a world record! To put this in perspective, one GW is enough to power roughly 190,000 homes. 

In December 2016, the cost of building and installing new solar electricity generation dropped to $1.65 per watt, narrowly beating out its renewable counterpart, wind ($1.66/Watt), and its fossil fuel competitors.

A significant turning point in the economics of solar vs. fossil fuels occurred in 2016 when a commercial solar provider in Dubai offered solar electricity for sale at $0.029 per kilowatt hour, setting a world record for solar and all energy sources. Today, 89 Petawatts (PW) of potential solar energy production are available on Earth, making solar the world’s most abundant available power source. To learn more about how to compare solar and fossil fuels apples to apples, check out our full explanation.

In early 2019, the U.S. surpassed 2 million solar system installations. This milestone comes just three years after the industry completed its one millionth installation, a feat that took 40 years to accomplish. Most notably, the industry is projected to hit 4 million installations in 2023, illustrating solar’s rapid pace as the fastest-growing energy resource in the world. By 2030, the solar energy industry is expected to quadruple from its current size. 

Solar panel efficiency levels have been increasing as quickly as solar costs are declining, thanks to the scientific community’s focus on the need for innovation in solar technology. To help offer perspective, the most efficient solar panel just five years ago was between 17 and 18 percent. In 2020, homeowners can get affordable quotes for solar panels in the 20 to 23 percent efficiency range anywhere in the U.S. The two leading brands are SunPower and Panasonic in terms of solar cell efficiency. To learn more about how solar panel efficiency has changed over time, check out our entire write-up.

The cost of solar has plummeted while the cost of grid electricity has continued to rise gradually, and the concept of the solar “break-even point” with solar has become more and more attractive. In 2021, most homeowners are seeing payback periods of around eight years and 20-year savings estimates of more than $20,000. Some homeowners see break-even points as low as three to four years in states with high utility prices, like Massachusetts and New York. Read our article highlighting the advantages of solar energy to learn more about how solar can benefit you.

Not even a decade ago, an installed solar system cost upwards of $8 a watt, and many theorized about the day when solar could break the $4/watt threshold. In 2022, we’re seeing the $3.00/Watt mark take effect – quotes with pricing below $3.00 are coming in on the EnergySage Marketplace every day. The average cost per watt in 2021 was $2.77 per watt on EnergySage, meaning that a small to medium-sized system (6,000 watts) will cost $12,476 after the federal solar tax credit subsidy.

Solar cost H2 2021

Though many may be aware that solar energy can power trains, cars, and even space stations, many were skeptical when Bertrand Piccard decided to fly a solar-powered plane around the world with no additional power source than the sun. In early 2016, the Swiss pilot and professional explorer departed from Abu Dhabi in the famous Solar Impulse II aircraft, making his anticipated worldwide return in July. The global flight offered numerous photo opportunities and made a statement around the world about the boundless potential of solar energy.

Community solar is now offered by many large utilities that are incentivized to source a certain percentage of their supplied power from renewable sources. In 2021, the concept of shared solar or community solar – installing a massive solar farm from which hundreds or even thousands of people can source their electricity – is taking off. Currently, it is most popular in these five states: California, Colorado, Minnesota, New York, and Massachusetts. However, with the many pragmatic and affordable aspects of community solar, the concept is quickly gaining popularity nationwide.

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One common concern homeowners voiced when considering going solar is, “What would I do at night?” This is the resource’s most evident barrier to reaching mainstream status, and solar energy storage providers are answering the call. Several well-regarded brands have entered the solar storage space (including Tesla, LG, and Mercedes), and new competition and innovation are causing the cost of solar storage to plummet. Nowadays, homeowners can purchase solar-plus-storage systems and be completely energy independent. To learn more about storage, check out the best solar batteries available.

Overall, these eight facts offer multiple angles on solar’s growth in the recent decade and how it has become a legitimate competitor of fossil fuel resources. If you’re considering a solar panel system in the near future, check out some tips for how solar shoppers can guarantee they’ll get the lowest price and best equipment with their installation.

The world's largest solar thermal energy production plant lives in the Mojave Desert in California. The 392 MegaWatt plant, Ivanpah, uses concentrating solar power technology (CSP) to drive a steam turbine, which creates electricity. Software-powered mirrors reflect the sun into three boilers, which create steam. CSP power-tower plants like Ivanpah have a particularly beneficial solar harnessing method because it allows energy to be stored even after the sun sets in the form of molten salts. In 2014, the CSP plant came online and almost doubled the US’s solar thermal energy production from past years, and according to energy.gov, 500,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions will be prevented yearly. 

Alongside other types of renewable technology, electric vehicles are more popular than ever, with more than 9 percent of new cars this year being EVs. Solar panels pair very well with electric vehicles and can charge them quite effectively as they can with all large and small household appliances. Even a small solar array with ten panels can charge an electric vehicle to full capacity. This can be an affordable and efficient option, especially when using available incentives.

According to the Department of Energy, there has never been a greater demand for solar. The U.S. is now the third largest market in the world for solar. 23.6 gigawatts of solar were installed in the U.S. in 2021. This was enough for 23.3 million American homes.

Like other improvements, such as remodeling a kitchen or a new room, solar panels are an addition that can increase the value of your home. In addition to saving you money on your electric bill, solar panels can also allow you to make more money on selling your home. Many studies, including one from Zillow, find that solar panels increase the value of your home by more than 4 percent.

Like with other large purchases, there are many options for those who wish to purchase solar panels other than buying them outright. These options range from specific solar loans to solar leases and power purchase agreements. While each financing option varies on what it covers and how often it can be paid, each one is worth considering for homeowners who want to go solar.

solar loans

Despite an industry-wide drop in employment, the US solar industry still employed 231,474 people as of 2020. These numbers are expected over the next year, especially in the face of major federal investments in solar energy and President Biden’s goal to reach 100 percent clean energy by 2035.

At EnergySage, we’re helping you find the right solar solution for your property. Since our founding in 2009, we’ve helped solar shoppers nationwide navigate their solar energy options by providing a solar marketplace to receive quotes from qualified local installers. Register your property and start your solar journey with us today.

There are multiple variables to consider when seeking out the best solar panels on the market. While certain panels will have higher efficiency ratings than others, investing in top-of-the-line solar equipment doesn’t always result in higher savings. The only way to find your property's “sweet spot” is to evaluate quotes with varying equipment and financing offers.

For any homeowner in the early stage of shopping for solar that would just like a ballpark estimate for an installation, try our Solar Calculator, which offers upfront cost and long-term savings estimates based on your location and roof type. For those looking to get quotes from local contractors today, check out our quote comparison platform.

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