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12 Solar Energy Facts That Might Surprise You

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Solar panels were very expensive before 2010, but their cost decreased by more than 50% during the last decade. As photovoltaic (PV) systems became more affordable, they were installed in a larger number of homes and businesses. Large-scale solar farms can now generate electricity at a lower cost than coal and gas power plants.

Here we will discuss 12 interesting facts about solar energy and photovoltaic technology.

1) Solar power is the fastest growing electricity source in the US

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) publishes the quarterly Solar Market Insight Report, which contains detailed information about solar installations in the US. The latest editions of the SMI report show that solar PV systems are the fastest growing electricity source in the country:

  • The US installed 20.2 gigawatts (GW) of solar capacity in 2022, representing 50% of all the generation capacity deployed that year.
  • Solar installations reached 6.1 GW during the first quarter of 2023, representing 54% of capacity additions during those three months (January – March).

This trend is expected to continue. In February 2023, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecast that the US would install 54.5 GW of generation capacity by the end of the year. Solar power accounts for 29.1 GW, which is 54% of the projected growth for the year.

2) The US has enough solar panels to power 26 million homes

According to SEIA data, the US reached 149 GW of solar PV capacity in Q1 2023. To put these numbers into perspective, each solar gigawatts can generate electricity for around 175,000 homes, and 149 GW can cover the energy needs of over 26 million homes.

Thanks to decreasing technology costs and financial incentives like the 30% federal tax credit, the US could reach 378 GW of solar capacity by 2028. The resulting electricity output would be enough to power more than 66 million homes.

3) Solar PV system costs have dropped by over 50% since 2010

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) reported an average price of $7.53 per watt for home solar systems in 2010. This means you would have paid $75,300 for a 10-kW system, and $52,710 after subtracting the 30% federal tax credit.

Around 13 years later, the Q2 2023 Solar Market Insight reports an average price of $3.28 per watt, which represents a 56% decrease from 2010. The typical price of a 10-kW system is now $32,800, which drops to $22,960 after the federal tax credit.

  • Solar PV systems benefit from economies of scale.
  • In other words, commercial and grid-scale installations are more expensive due to their size, but their cost per watt is actually lower.
  • The SEIA reported an average price of $1.63/watt for commercial solar systems, and $0.92/watt for utility-scale systems.

Regardless of the size of your solar energy system, you get the Clean Energy Investment Tax Credit (ITC). This is a federal tax deduction equivalent to 30% of your project costs, which means you get back $300 for every $1,000 invested.

4) The best solar panels have a 25-year product warranty

There is a common misconception that solar panels are fragile, but this is only true if you purchase low-end products. The best solar panels come with a 25-year warranty, and you can find 40-year-old systems that are still operational.

As of 2023, SunPower offers the longest warranty in the industry. Their Maxeon solar panels have a 40-year warranty, while their other product lines have a 25-year warranty.

Solaria is in second place with a 30-year product warranty, and there are many solar brands offering a 25-year warranty. The list includes Aptos, CertainTeed, Jinko Solar, LA Solar, Mission Solar, Panasonic, Q CELLS, REC, Silfab and Trina Solar.

5) SunPower and Canadian Solar make the most efficient solar panels (As of June 2023)

Under ideal laboratory conditions, solar cells have reached an energy conversion efficiency of nearly 50%. The efficiency achieved by solar panels in real-world applications is lower: the amount of sunlight is constantly changing, and they are exposed to dust and weather conditions. 

When it comes to commercially available solar panels, SunPower and Canadian Solar currently hold the efficiency record in the industry:

  • As of June 2023, both brands have developed product lines that reach 22.8% efficiency.
  • They are closely followed by REC (22.3%) and Panasonic (22.2%).
  • There are several manufacturers who offer solar panels ranging from 20% to 22% efficiency, including Silfab and Q CELLS.

Contrary to popular belief, a lower panel efficiency does not necessarily mean lower quality. You can also find excellent solar panels with a rated efficiency below 20%. However, you get less kilowatt-hours per panel, which means you must cover a larger area to reach a given output.

6) The top three solar states are California, Florida and Texas

California, Florida and Texas have been the top three solar markets since 2019. The following table summarizes the solar photovoltaic capacity they have installed each year, including January-March 2023:

State2019202020212022Q1 2023
California3,112 MW3,917 MW3,648 MW5,068 MW951 MW
Florida1,367 MW2,827 MW1,668 MW1,900 MW1,634 MW
Texas1,412 MW3,426 MW6,065 MW3,658 MW765 MW

These three states installed a combined capacity of 3,350 MW (3.35 GW) in Q1 2023. The total capacity installed by the US during that period was 6.1 GW, which means the top three states represent 55% of growth.

7) Solar panels can withstand hailstone impacts

Hailstones are a common concern among solar system owners. However, the best PV modules are subject to rigorous impact testing. They are designed to withstand hailstones with a diameter of one inch falling at 50 mph.

  • In May 2017, the solar energy system at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory campus was struck by a severe hailstorm.
  • The PV array has more than 3,000 panels, and only one of them was damaged.

In states such as Florida, hurricane damage is another concern among homeowners who plan to go solar. Manufacturers also have this area covered: PV modules are typically designed for a wind pressure of 2,400 Pascals, which is roughly equivalent to 140 mph winds. However, this only applies if the solar panels are installed properly by qualified professionals.

8) Solar panels can save homeowners over $1,000 per year

The exact savings achieved by solar panels depend on local sunshine and electricity prices. However, most US homeowners can expect to save over $1,000 per year with a 5-kW solar energy system.

  • On a site with decent sunshine, a 5-kW solar array generates over 6,500 kWh per year.
  • This is equivalent to around $1,040 in power bill savings at the average electric tariff of 16 cents/kWh, reported by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA).

This is a conservative estimate. A 5-kW solar system can generate over 8,000 kWh in a sunny state, and in this case you save around $1,280 per year. The financial projection also improves if local electricity prices are high. A solar electric output of 8,000 kWh is worth $1,280 at 16 cents/kWh, but its value increases to $2,000 at 25 cents/kWh.

As you can see in tables provided by the US EIA, several states have residential tariffs higher than 20 cents/kWh. Some New England states exceed 30 cents/kWh, and Hawaii has the most expensive electricity with an average tariff of 44 cents/kWh.

9) Solar panels increase the market value of your property

According to an NREL fact sheet, solar panels increase your home value by an amount equivalent to their 20-year savings. For example, if your solar PV system saves $1,500 per year, your home value increases by $30,000.

To make the deal better, many states have introduced legislation that exempts renewable energy systems from property taxes. As a quick example, assume you pay a 1% tax rate for a $300,000 property, which is equivalent to $3,000 per year. If solar panels add $30,000 in home value but your state has a property tax exemption, your payment does not change. Even if your home is now worth $330,000, your payment is not increased from $3,000 to $3,300.

10) The US solar industry employs over 255,000 people

The 12th Solar Jobs Census was published in July 2022, reporting a total of 255,037 people working in US solar companies. These jobs are largely concentrated in the project development and installation area, with a headcount of 168,960.

The SEIA has a map where you can check the number of solar jobs created in each state, along with the number of installations completed and installed capacity (measured in megawatts). The following states have more than 10,000 solar jobs each:

  • California – 75,712
  • Florida – 11,761
  • Massachusetts – 10,548
  • New York – 10,524
  • Texas – 10,346

Together, these five states account for more than 46% of solar jobs in the US, and California alone accounts for nearly 30%.

11) The top three corporate solar users are Facebook, Amazon and Apple

Meta (Facebook), Amazon and Apple are the three companies with the highest solar energy usage in the US, according to the 2022 Solar Means Business Report:

  • Meta = 3,588.1 MW
  • Amazon = 1,114.5 MW
  • Apple = 987.3 MW

The combined solar capacity used by these tech giants is 5,689.9 MW, and their clean electricity production is equivalent to the consumption of one million homes.

12) Solar radiation is the most abundant energy source on Earth

The Earth’s surface is constantly exposed to 173,000 terawatts (173,000 billion kilowatts) of solar radiation, according to the US Department of Energy. This is 10,000 times more than the total power consumption of modern civilization.

The growth potential for solar power is huge: global capacity reached one terawatt in 2022, according to a report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

How Solar PV Works

To learn more about the facts related to how solar power works, check out:

Written By

Zachary Shahan Photo

Zachary Shahan

Zach is the founder of Solar Love and the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy since 2009.

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