Solar Industry Overview
Every day, 173,000 terawatts of solar energy continuously reach the earth. That’s more than 10,000 times the world’s total daily energy use, making solar energy the world’s most abundant energy resource.
In 2017 alone, the United States installed 10.6 gigawatts of solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity, marking back-to-back years of double-digit growth. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, if the addition of solar PV capacity continues at this rate, by 2023, over 15 GW of PV capacity will be installed annually.
Some Solar Industry History
The first major revolution for the solar industry occurred in 1954 when researchers at Bell Laboratories demonstrated the first practical silicon solar cell. The company revealed the first solar panel by using it to power a small toy Ferris wheel and a radio transmitter. Since then, the solar industry has grown quickly and the forecasted growth is massive.
1973 – Emergency Petroleum Allocation Act
The federal government’s Emergency Petroleum Allocation Act of 1973 (a U.S. law that required the President to proclaim regulations to control the price of petroleum products in response to the 1973 oil crisis) created an energy crisis in the United States which drove the government’s initial commitment to develop solar energy. Congress passed five energy bills in 1974, two of which cited solar power as a potential solution to the energy crisis.
1974 – Solar Heating and Cooling Demonstration Act
In order to acclimate the public to the new technology, the Solar Heating and Cooling Demonstration Act of 1974 ordered the installation of solar heating and cooling units in federal buildings by 1977. By passing this law, Congress hoped becoming a leader in the solar industry would set the example for other businesses to follow suit.
1977 — Solar Energy Coordination and Management Project
Congress also passed the Solar Energy Research, Development and Demonstration Act of 1974 which led to the creation of the Solar Energy Coordination and Management Project in 1977. This group was established to assist agencies like NASA, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development to improve solar energy technology and work to equip government buildings across the country with industrial solar panels for heating and cooling. This organization still exists today as the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
President Jimmy Carter and his administration were trailblazers of energy policy throughout the 1970s. Carter signed the Department of Energy (DOE) Organization Act in 1977, and the agency was activated on October 1, 1977.
1978 – Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act
The Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act was passed by Congress in 1978. The objective of this coordinated effort was to make solar viable and affordable and market it to the public. President Carter installed solar panels on the White House in 1979 in hopes of generating popularity.
2005 – Energy Policy Act
Another major push for solar came in the early 2000s. President Bush signed the Energy Policy Act of 2005 which created a Department of Energy Loan Guarantee Program for large-scale solar installations.
2009 – American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 extended massive new subsidies to the solar industry. This act authorized solar projects to receive $9 billion in cash grants and $10.9 billion in loan guarantees.
Solar Industry Job Growth
The solar industry has greatly impacted job growth in the United States. In fact, solar jobs grew nine times faster than the overall U.S. economy, and one in every 100 new jobs was a solar job from 2012-2017. The solar workforce has increased by 168% in the past seven years (9 times faster than the overall U.S. economy), from about 93,000 jobs in 2010 to over 250,000 jobs in 2017 according to The Solar Foundation.
Today, one in every 100 new jobs was a solar job and the states with significant job gains include: Utah, Minnesota, Arizona, Colorado, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Tennessee. And the projection for solar job growth across the country continues to rise.
Why have solar jobs grown so much over the past few years?
The solar industry has been able to grow and thrive as a result of decreasing prices. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the cost to install solar has fallen by more than 70% since 2010, and 58% since 2012. AND solar panel prices have decreased.
An increase in corporation involvement in the solar industry can be attributed to the solar cost decreasing, as well. The amount of solar installed at corporations is enough to offset 1.1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year.
What’s Next for Solar?
The solar industry has made tremendous strides, and projections indicate that it will continue to experience significant growth. There are more than 1.6 million solar installations in the U.S. currently, and that number will surpass 2 million in 2019 and 4 million by 2023.
But the work is not over yet! Technological advances and innovative solutions are still needed to increase efficiency, drive down costs, and enable utilities to rely on solar for baseload power.