solar energy

Solar Power

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, here 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:

  1. Solar Power’s Abundance
  2. Falling Solar Power Costs
  3. Solar Energy Industry Growth
  4. 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:

  1. How Do Solar Panels, Solar Cells and Solar Energy Work?
  2. Solar Thermal Panels, Practical but Not Yet Popular – A Solar Overview
  3. Most Efficient Solar Panels — Which Ones?
  4. The Solar Power Wikipedia page

Solar Power Abundance!

world solar energy potential

“Comparing finite and renewable planetary energy reserves (Terawatt‐years). Total recoverable reserves are shown for the finite resources. Yearly potential is shown for the renewables.” (source: Perez & Perez, 2009a)

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 yellow 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.

California solar cost of solar

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.


solar energy versus solar power costs

Note that the 2012 solar LCOE of 14 cents/kWh is already way out of date, with solar hitting 4–9 cents/kWh in the Middle East, USA, Brazil, and elsewhere.

solar energy versus nuclear energy costs

Note that the 2012 solar LCOE of 14 cents/kWh is already way out of date, with solar hitting 4–9 cents/kWh in the Middle East, USA, Brazil, and elsewhere.

That’s just an appetizer, of course. For more along these lines, here are a few more stories on solar power costs:

  1. True Value of Solar Power
  2. Cost of Solar Power Competitive with Coal in Some Places, & Dropping Fast
  3. Solar Power Graphs to Make You Smile
  4. Historic Report: Solar Energy Costs Now Lower than Nuclear Energy
  5. Another Low-Solar-Price Record: Saudi Electric Company Lands Solar PPA Under 5¢/kWh

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:

US solar power growth

Here’s another one that goes through 2014 and shows the annual growth trend:

solar PV power growth US

Some more key facts for you:

  1. The U.S. solar energy industry now employs ~175,000 people (more than the coal or steel industry).
  2. The U.S. solar energy industry has been the fastest-growing industry in the U.S. in recent years. (It has been creating jobs 10 times faster than the U.S. economy as a whole).
  3. Over 5,000 businesses (mostly small businesses) support the solar industry in the U.S., creating jobs for Americans in every state.
  4. 9 out of 10 Americans think we should be developing and using more solar power.

Solar is expected to continue booming. In the U.S., it might even double each year up to 2020 (under the right policy scenario):

solar pv market growth us

Here are some more posts on solar energy industry growth:

  1. Solar Power Could Produce >50% of Global Electricity, IEA Report Concludes
  2. Solar Power Graphs to Make You Smile
  3. Solar + Wind = 74% of New US Electricity Capacity January–May
  4. US PV Installations Predicted To Pass 8 GW, Say GTM & SEIA
  5. US Solar PV Installations Surpassed 6 GW In 2014 (Charts)

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 Photovoltaic (PV) Power Plants in the World

  1. Solar Star” in USA — 579 MW (completed in 2015)
  2. Topaz Solar Farm” in USA — 550 MW (completed in 2014)
  3. Desert Sunlight Solar Farm” in USA — 550 MW (completed in 2015)
  4. Copper Mountain Solar Facility” in USA — 458 MW (completed in 2015)
  5. Charanka Solar Park” in India — 345 MW (partially complete, will be 500 MW when done)
  6. Longyangxia Dam Solar Park” in China — 320 MW (completed in 2013)
  7. Agua Caliente” in USA — 290 MW (completed in 2014)
  8. Antelope Valley Solar Ranch” in USA — 266 MW (completed in 2014)
  9. Mount Signal Solar” in USA — 265.7 MW (completed in 2014)
  10. California Valley Solar Ranch” in USA — 250 MW (completed in 2013)

Largest Solar Thermal Power Plants in Operation

  1. Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System” in the Mojave Desert of California, USA — 392 MW
  2. Solar Energy Generating Systems” in California, USA — 354 MW
  3. Mojave Solar Project” in California, USA — 280 MW
  4. Solana Generating Station” in Arizona, USA — 280 MW
  5. Genesis Solar Energy Project” in California, USA — 250 MW
  6. Solaben Solar Power Station” in Logrosán, Spain — 200 MW
  7. Solnova Solar Power Station” in Seville, Spain — 150 MW
  8. Andasol Solar Power Station” in Granada, Spain — 150 MW
  9. Extresol Solar Power Station” in Torre de Miguel Sesmero, Spain — 150 MW
  10. Shams 1” in Abu Dhabi, UAE — 100 MW
  11. “KaXu Solar One” in Pofadder, South Africa — 100 MW
  12. “Guzman” in Palma del Río, Spain — 100 MW
  13. “Manchasol Solar Power Station” in Ciudad Real, Spain — 100 MW
  14. “Valle Solar Power Station” in San José del Valle, Spain — 100 MW
  15. “Helioenergy Solar Power Station” in Écija, Spain — 100 MW
  16. “Aste Solar Power Station” in Alcázar de San Juan, Spain — 100 MW
  17. “Solacor Solar Power Station” in El Carpio, Spain — 100 MW
  18. “Helios Solar Power Station” in Puerto Lápice, Spain — 100 MW
  19. “Termosol Solar Power Station” in Navalvillar de Pela, Spain — 100 MW

Chime in below with extra information, comments, or questions! Or shoot me a message on Google+.

Solar Power Update

See our Solar Energy Facts / Solar Power Facts page and our Top Solar Energy Resources for more.

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