As a form of renewable energy, solar energy is the conversion of light and heat radiated from the sun into usable power. Advantages of solar energy systems/power plants include the absence of air pollution, water pollution, or greenhouse gases. Using solar energy to replace other potentially harmful energy sources can have a positive environmental impact however, solar energy requires materials that involve energy intensive processes. Studies have found that PV systems can produce the equivalent amount of energy used to manufacture each system within 1 to 4 years.[1]

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) found that in 1990, 11 countries generated about 0.4 billion kWh of total solar electricity, whereas in 2019, 218 countries generated about 699 billion kWh. The top five producers of solar electricity including their percentage of the world’s total solar electricity generation in 2019 were:

  • China – 32%
  • United States – 15%
  • Japan – 11%
  • India – 7%
  • Germany – 6%[2]

Solar power in the United States is now more affordable and accessible, solar power capacity going from 0.34 GW in 2008 to 97.2 GW today. The average cost of solar PV panels has dropped nearly 70% since 2014, making solar energy economically competitive with conventional energy sources in most states.[3]

The EIA expects 46.1 gigawatts (GW) of new utility-scale electric generating capacity in 2022 and almost half will come from solar.  Solar generating capacity is expected to grow by 21.5 GW in 2022 which is more than the 15.5 capacity additions in 2021. Most of the planned solar additions will be in Texas and California.[4]

Updated by Jennifer Ostromecki, November 2023