Solar power is on the rise — but by how much?

Bret Fanshaw
Aug 23, 2018 · 4 min read

Interactive maps show the growth of solar and other renewable energy technologies across the country.

Every day, as the Earth spins and orbits the sun, brilliant and powerful light spreads across our country and our communities.

Over the last decade, we’ve really begun to harness this clean, reliable and virtually limitless source of solar power to fuel more of America’s electricity and energy needs.

In a new report, Renewables on the Rise, we document the growth of renewable energy, including solar, and clean technologies from 2008 to 2017.

Our interactive map with state-by-state data shows the progress on solar and wind power generation, electric vehicle sales, energy savings and battery storage.

Click here to view the map.

The growth of all of these sectors is impressive. However, solar power stands out as a major driving force behind the transition to eventually meeting all of our needs with renewable energy.

By the numbers:

  • In 2017, America produced 39 times as much solar power as it did in 2008.
  • By the end of the first quarter of 2018, America had enough solar installed to power 10.7 million homes.
  • Solar made up 2.1 percent of the electricity consumed in America in 2017, 42 times more than the 0.05 percent of electricity consumed in 2008.

In the states:

The top five states for growth in annual solar energy generation:

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

Costs are coming down:

Nearly every segment of the clean energy market is seeing rapid price declines.

Image: U.S. Department of Energy

A Department of Energy survey of clean energy prices found that, from 2008 to 2015, the cost of land-based wind power fell by 41 percent; distributed PV by 54 percent; utility-scale PV by 64 percent; batteries by 73 percent; and LED bulbs by 94 percent.

According to the financial firm Lazard’s most recent levelized cost of energy survey, the unsubsidized costs of utility-scale wind and solar energy have fallen to levels that are “cost-competitive with conventional generation technologies under some scenarios” even before accounting for environmental and social benefits.

Driven by policy and technology advancement:

As of last year, 29 states, plus Washington, DC, and three U.S. territories, had mandatory renewable energy standards. These standards are widely considered one of the main policy drivers advancing the adoption of solar and wind energy. An additional eight states and one U.S. territory have set voluntary renewable energy goals.

Federal and state tax credits, credits such as net metering applied to your utility bills, local demand from institutions, governments and corporations, as well as rebates and financing options have all contributed to the rise of solar and renewable energy.

If incentives aren’t enough, California’s energy commission recently approved a policy requiring solar panels on all new homes beginning in 2020, as a part of the state’s goals to reduce energy use from buildings.

Technology advances are also making renewable energy technologies more efficient and effective. The average rooftop solar panel installed in 2016 was 25 percent more efficient than in 2008.

Where we go from here:

We know America has the potential to power itself 100 times over with solar energy alone. But will we keep taking advantage of it?

Our study shows that if solar and wind power generation continues to climb at even two-thirds of the rate it’s gone up over of the last decade, we could produce enough renewable energy to meet all of our current electricity needs by 2035.

Check out our brand new State of Solar map, showing how across the country, states and cities have adopted this clean and abundant source of energy (another blog on this coming soon).

Click here for the State of Solar map.

For more information:

Check out our report map and full report for more figures on solar, wind, batteries, EVs and efficiency.

Environment America

Environment America is a federation of state-based, citizen-funded environmental groups working for clean air, clean water and open space. Part of The Public Interest Network.

Bret Fanshaw

Written by

Solar campaign director at Environment America. Working to power our cities, states and nation with renewable energy.

Environment America

Environment America is a federation of state-based, citizen-funded environmental groups working for clean air, clean water and open space. Part of The Public Interest Network.