Below is a quick overview of solar power today. Below the overview, I’ve also added a number of additional solar power stories which are worth exploring if you want to take an even deeper dive into the subject.
To get rolling, above is a CNBC interview of me talking about why, very generally, solar power is so important, and also talking about its potential to help the world today. Next is a video about how much the cost of solar has dropped in recent years and what that means, followed by an “About Solar / Why Solar” video that gets into the specifics of the energy and solar energy markets a bit more.
The sections below cover:
- Solar Power’s Abundance
- Falling Solar Power Costs
- Solar Energy Industry Growth
- Largest Solar Power Projects
If you’re looking for specific information on solar power technology, that’s not included here, but I’d recommend these resources for more on that:
- How Do Solar Panels, Solar Cells and Solar Energy Work?
- Solar Thermal Panels, Practical but Not Yet Popular – A Solar Overview
- Most Efficient Solar Panels — Which Ones?
- The Solar Power Wikipedia page
Solar Power Abundance!
No other energy source compares to the energy potential of sunshine. Looking at the image above, make sure to note that circles for Coal, Uranium, Petroleum, and Natural Gas are TOTAL recoverable reserves, whereas the renewable energy circles (including the giant solar energy one) are for energy potential per year.
The bottom line: Solar energy is the most abundant energy source on the planet, by far.
For a micro-scale example, the solar energy hitting the state of Texas each month is equal to the total amount of energy the Texas oil and gas industry has ever produced.
Solar Power Costs
Now, a lot of politicians and people connected to or confused by the fossil fuel industry like to contend that solar power is expensive. Well, to put the matter bluntly: No, it’s not.
Technology improvements and policies to promote research, development, and installation of solar have resulted in tremendous drops in the cost of solar power over the past several years. Even without taking important health and safety costs (note that a Harvard study concluded in 2011 that the health costs of coal are $500 billion a year in the U.S.), environmental costs, energy security costs, and other social costs into account, solar is already cost-competitive with new electricity from conventional energy options like coal and nuclear energy (if you take into account how long it would take coal or nuclear plants to get built) — see the graphs below.
That’s just an appetizer, of course. For more along these lines, here are a few more stories on solar power costs:
- True Value of Solar Power
- Cost of Solar Power Competitive with Coal in Some Places, & Dropping Fast
- GE: Solar Power Cheaper than Fossil Fuels in 5 years
- Solar Power Graphs to Make You Smile
- Historic Report: Solar Energy Costs Now Lower than Nuclear Energy
Solar Power Industry Growth
Dropping costs, as well as concerns like global warming and air pollution, have triggered massive growth in the solar energy industry. I’m going to focus on U.S. solar energy industry growth here, but the trends are similar globally and in other major economies, like China, Germany, the UK, Spain, and many other countries.
One of my favorite solar graphs is this one, which is on the exponential solar power growth we’ve seen in recent years:
Some more key facts for you:
- The U.S. solar energy industry now employs over 100,000 people (more than the coal or steel industry).
- The U.S. solar energy industry is the fastest-growing industry in the U.S. (It is creating jobs 10 times faster than the U.S. economy as a whole).
- Over 5,000 businesses (mostly small businesses) support the solar industry in the U.S., creating jobs for Americans in every state.
- Solar PV installations have grown about 69% in the past year (that’s 40 times faster than the U.S. economy as a whole).
- The U.S. solar energy industry is a net exporter, by $2 billion/year, and is even a net exporter to China (how many industries can claim that?).
- 9 out of 10 Americans think we should be developing and using more solar power.
- The utility-scale solar market has grown 171% in the past year or so.
Solar is expected to continue booming. In the U.S., it might even double each year up to 2020 (under the right policy scenario):
Here are some more posts on solar energy industry growth:
- Solar Industry on Solyndra, Tremendous Job Growth (100,000 US Jobs Now), & Doubling of Installed PV
- International Solar PV Nearly Doubled, PV Growth Doubled in 2010
- Solar Power Could Produce >50% of Global Electricity, IEA Report Concludes
- Cleantech’s Revolutionary Growth & Expectations for Coming 10 Years
- Solar Power Graphs to Make You Smile
- Solar Energy Markets and Growth
Largest Solar Power Plants
OK, an “about solar” page wouldn’t be complete without a list of the largest solar power plants in the world, right? (Though, note that much of the solar power capacity in the world is in small installations and one of the prime advantages of solar is its decentralization and its ability to help “democratize” the electricity system – even the CIA and Department of Defense have focused on the national security benefits of solar.) Nonetheless, I think almost everyone loves a list of the “largest _________,” so here are two current lists (largest solar thermal power plants and largest solar photovoltaic power plants):
Largest Solar Thermal Power Plants in Operation
- “Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System” in the Mojave Desert of California, USA — 392 MW
- “Solar Energy Generating Systems” in California, USA — 354 MW
- “Solana Generating Station” in Arizona, USA — 280 MW
- “Solaben Solar Power Station” in Logrosán, Spain — 200 MW
- “Solnova Solar Power Station” in Seville, Spain — 150 MW
- “Andasol Solar Power Station” in Granada, Spain — 150 MW
- “Extresol Solar Power Station” in Torre de Miguel Sesmero, Spain — 150 MW
- “Shams 1” in Abu Dhabi, UAE — 100 MW (largest single-unit solar power plant in world)
- “Palma del Río Solar Power Station” in Córdoba, Spain — 100 MW
- “Manchasol Solar Power Station” in Ciudad Real, Spain — 100 MW
- “Valle Solar Power Station” in San José del Valle, Spain — 100 MW
- “Helioenergy Solar Power Station” in Écija, Spain — 100 MW
- “Aste Solar Power Station” in Alcázar de San Juan, Spain — 100 MW
- “Solacor Solar Power Station” in El Carpio, Spain — 100 MW
- “Helios Solar Power Station” in Puerto Lápice, Spain — 100 MW
- “Termosol Solar Power Station” in Navalvillar de Pela, Spain — 100 MW
Largest Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Power Plants in the World
- “Gujarat Solar Park” in India — 600 MW (completed in 2012, includes a few somewhat separate solar parks)
- “Topaz Solar Farm” in USA — 550 MW (300 MW completed up through January 2014)
- “Agua Caliente” in USA — 251 MW (397 MW when complete)
- “California Valley Solar Ranch” in USA — 250 MW (completed in 2013)
- “Antelope Valley Solar Ranch” in USA — 230 MW (almost complete)
- “Charanka Solar Park” in China — 221 MW (completed in 2012, part of the Gujarat Solar Park)
- “Golmud Solar Park” in China — 200 MW (completed in 2011)
- “Imperial Solar Energy Center South” in USA — 200 MW (completed in 2013)
- “Centinela Solar Energy Project” in USA — 170 MW (almost complete)
- “Meuro Solar Park” in Germany — 166 MW (completed in 2012)
- “Mesquite Solar I” in USA — 150 MW (completed in 2012)
- “Copper Mountain Solar Facility” in USA — 150 MW (completed in 2013)
- “Neuhardenberg Airport Solar Park” in Germany — 145 MW (completed in 2013)
- “Catalina Solar Project” in USA — 143 MW (completed in 2013)
- “Campo Verde Solar Project” in USA — 139 MW (completed in 2012)
- “Templin Solar Park” in Germany — 128 MW (completed in 2012)
- “Arlington Valley Solar II” in USA — 127 MW (completed in 2013)
- “Centrale solaire de Toul-Rosières” in France — 115 MW (completed in 2012)
- “Perovo Solar Park” in Ukraine — 106 MW (completed in 2011)
- “Xitieshan Solar Park” in China — 100 MW (completed in 2011)
- “Gansu Jiayuguan Solar Park” in China — 100 MW (completed in 2013)
- “Ningxia Qingyang Solar Park” in China — 100 MW (completed in 2013)
- “Sarnia Photovoltaic Power Plant” in Canada — 97 MW (completed in 2010)
Chime in below with extra information, comments, or questions! Or shoot me a message on Google+.
Solar Power Updates
Update (November 2013): Do Women Actually Lead The Way On Home Solar?
Update (November 2013): Rooftop Solar Can Meet 58% Of Peak Power Demand
Update (November 2013): Renewable Energy Provided 99% Of All New Electricity Capacity In October
Update (November 2013): US Solar PV Pipeline Grows To 43 GW
Update (November 2013): What Are The Best Solar Panels?
Update (November 2013): 15 Solar Facts You Should Know
Update (November 2013): Pop Music & Solar Panels — Music Recreates More Vibrations Of Solar Energy
Update (November 2013): SolarCity Leads Way Into Low-Interest Solar Financing That Could Be Huge Boost To Solar Industry
Update (November 2013): BMW Partners With Solar City To Offer Solar + EV Bundle
Update (November 2013): Is Solar Worth It?
Update (November 2013): Germany Solar PV Report — A Must-Read For Any Energy Reporter
Update (November 2013): First Solar Reports Largest Quarterly Decline In CdTe Module Cost Per-Watt Since 2007
Update (November 2013): Companies Team Up To Drive Down Solar Costs For Local Solar Installers
Update (February 2013): Thinking of going solar? Check out this post: Considering Solar? Of Course You Are…
Update (February 2013): For statistics and rankings on the top solar power countries vs the top solar power states, check out: Top Solar Power States vs Top Solar Power Countries
Update (February 2013): For statistics and rankings on the top solar power states, check out: Top Solar Power States (Per Capita)
Update (February 2013): For the most recent listing of the top solar module manufacturers, check out: Top 10 Solar PV Module Suppliers In 2012
Update (February 2013): For some big news out of the Middle East, check out our Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week archives and this post: Saudi Arabia Investing $109 Billion Into Solar Energy, Wants 1/3 Of Electricity From Solar By 2032
Update (February 2013): For a rehash of the top solar stories of 2012, check out: Top 10 Solar Power Stories Of 2012
Update (February 2013): Other hot solar stories you might want to check out include:
- Solar PV Installations Hit 32 GW In 2012, 35 GW Projected For 2013, According To IHS
- Interview With NREL Director Dan Arvizu On Distributed Energy / Distributed Solar (Benefits & Obstacles)
- Solar Industry Shakeout — What It Really Means
- World Could Be Solar Powered On Less Than 1% Of Land Mass
- Ford EVs Spark A Revolution Linking Homes To Cars
- Mosaic’s First 4 Solar Energy Crowdfunding Projects Sell Out In Under 24 Hours
- Solar Crowdfunding Is Here — Solar Mosaic Launches New Solar Crowdfunding Site
- Barriers To Distributed Renewable Energy [Slideshow]
- Unsubsidized Solar Revolution Starting, UBS Reports
- Germany Sets New PV Installation Record In 2012
- Germany Installed Record Amount Of Solar Power In 2012, 7.6 GW Of New Capacity
- Solar Electricity Now Under Half The Cost Of Grid Power For Australian Households
- China Targeting 10 GW of New Solar Capacity In 2013
- 33% Of All Global PV Shipments Ended Up In China In The 4th Quarter
- Wind And Solar Competitive With Natural Gas In The Lone Star State
- Thin-Film Solar Power To Be Sold For Less Than Coal Power In New Mexico
- Solar Net Metering Equals Net Benefits In California And Vermont
Update (June 2012): For statistics and rankings on the top solar power countries in the world, check out: Top Solar Power Countries (Per Capita, Per GDP, Per TWh of Electricity Produced, & in Total)
Update (June 2012): For the latest US solar installation data and growth projections, check out: Solar in the US: Policy & Promise (+ 9 More Solar Charts & Images) and U.S. Solar Installations Continue to Surge
Update (December 2011): A recent study does a great job explaining how analysts systematically overestimate the costs of solar power and also points out that solar has hit grid parity in some regions. Nonetheless, even this study doesn’t take into account some key factors mentioned below.