The United States Is Using Just A Fraction Of The Solar Energy It Could

by | Oct 12, 2022 | Utilities

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Only 0.03% of the solar energy available for use in the United States is currently being harnessed to generate electricity for utilities.

The U.S. Department of Energy found that, of the solar energy technologies assessed, American solar projects produced only 133 terawatt-hours of solar energy in 2020 despite 386,646 terawatt-hours of potential solar energy being available.

The U.S. has enough renewable energy resources to generate 100 times the country’s electricity needs annually, but we’re not using it.

The potential

To illustrate just how powerful solar can be in lighting our homes and powering the grid, the Energy Department states that every 1.5 hours, enough sunlight reaches the earth’s surface to meet the world’s energy needs for an entire year.

Solar power has more potential for electricity production than other sources such as wind, hydro, and other renewable powers. Yet, only 2.8% of the electricity generated in the U.S. is powered by solar energy.

From an economic standpoint, solar jobs have been in hot demand, and tax incentives exist for builders. Discounts even exist for electricity consumers who don’t have a solar grid installed on their homes to reap the benefits of community solar.

Adding the infrastructure

Every day – and year – more and more solar becomes available for use in the United States. Last year, the U.S. added more than 12.5 gigawatts of new capacity for large, utility-scale solar installs. This brings the total installed capacity to over 50 gigawatts.

The cost of installing solar has also dropped. The Department of Energy estimates that the price of building a solar plant has dropped on average 10% yearly, leading to a fall of more than 75% since 2010.

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), passed in August 2022, further incentivizes solar installations.

The IRA includes $369 billion in spending towards “energy security and climate change investments.” The administration’s goal is to reduce the country’s carbon emissions by roughly 40% by 2030.

“These investments will accelerate the transition to our green energy future and lower energy costs for American households and businesses,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said at the Cypress Creek Renewables plant in Durham, North Carolina in September. “They will secure our energy supply against global price shocks. And they will provide good-paying, high-quality jobs across America — particularly in non-coastal communities that have suffered from disinvestment.”

Experts expect a 40% increase in solar installations between 2023 and 2027 because of the IRA, but they also say supply chain constraints and the fact that the full effects of the IRA won’t kick in for two years will prevent Americans from realizing the full benefits of solar until at least 2024.

Turning the lights on

Amid supply chain constraints, political battles, and groundbreaking legislation, solar continues to gain popularity in the U.S. As new projects continue to multiply, the grid will become more and more prominently solar. In addition, the long-term political interests of oil and gas companies are diminishing due to activists wanting to address climate change.

As we get closer to 2030 and 2040, it’s expected more of our energy needs will be fulfilled by solar.

As solar costs continue to drop compared with other renewable and nonrenewable sources, some generating capacities will need to be forced off the grid during the sun’s peak.

Over time, we can expect solar’s value to drop in some areas as generation starts to exceed demand regularly, because solar provides the potential to have more power than we need.

To learn more about what’s new in the energy sector, check out our white paper—“5 Trends Driving Changes in the Utilities Industry.”

Meredith Galante

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