The Future of Solar Power in America — What to Expect?
According to a new study from the U.S. Department of Solar Energy, the U.S. could generate 40% of its electricity from solar power by 2035 and 45% by 2050.
Jennifer M. Granholm, Secretary of Energy, said on Sept. 8, when she released the 2021 Solar Futures Study: “This study shows that solar, the cheapest and fastest-growing source of clean energy, could provide enough electricity to power all U.S. homes by 2035 and employ up to 1.5 million people in the process.”
The size and Trajectory of the U.S. Solar industry Today, the U.S. solar industry employs about 242,000 people and generates tens of billions of dollars in economic value. As of September 2019, more than 2 million solar photovoltaic systems had been deployed in the United States, with a total installed capacity of approximately 71,300 MW and generating more than 100 billion kilowatts of electricity (projected total generation in 2019). In 2018, solar power generated about 1.5 percent of all electricity in the United States. Of all renewable energy generation, solar photovoltaics are expected to grow the fastest between now and 2050. In some grids with a high deployment of solar, such as California, solar sometimes provides more than half of their electricity needs.
The combination of solar systems and energy storage is also becoming more important. So far, the grid has been able to “tolerate” the instability of solar PV, and in most places, it is possible to keep the grid running smoothly in this unstable state. However, if there is a large use of solar energy in some areas, the potential for environmental impacts on the electricity supply in that area is greatly increased.
In a sunny California spring, solar power outstrips demand and can briefly turn the feed-in tariff negative. But then, perhaps just a few hours later, when demand starts to increase as solar output declines, the grid must rapidly increase output from other power plants, in what is known as the “duck curve”. So combining solar energy with an energy-storage system that allows solar (or other electricity) to be stored could be a big deal
It is still not possible to store large amounts of electricity cheaply. Some hybrid solar + storage projects have been able to peak fill during peak demand, but only provide 1% of our total energy consumption. As prices fall, more solar plants are likely to be paired with energy storage systems, such as the 690-megawatt Solar + Storage Gemini project that recently got the green light in Nevada.
Where are we now?
Solar energy has been with us for some time. It is no longer uncommon to see solar panels or larger solar farms on rooftops. As technology has developed and solar panels have become more widely used, it’s not just clean energy enthusiasts who are installing them: people are installing them as a form of investment.
The figures are shocking. Over the past decade, solar energy has experienced rapid growth, and not only has the number of solar unit installations increased, solar energy has become a major player in the U.S. economy. The number of people working in the solar industry has doubled since 2010. In 2015, about 210,000 people worked in the solar industry.
While the near-term outlook for rooftop solar panels seems bleak, the solar movement is so strong that there is little the new Trump administration can do to stop the growth. They may slow the process down a bit, but the overwhelming numbers suggest that the development of rooftop solar panels is inevitable.
Back in 2015, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology published an extensive 365-page study on the future of solar energy. According to the study, “Solar power is one of the few low-carbon energy technologies that has the potential to be developed on a very large scale.”
The study predicts the development of current solar technology to 2050, as they are unable to predict technological advances or market trends that may affect solar technology
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology believe solar energy has the potential to generate electricity on a scale of several terawatts. By comparison, today’s largest solar farms have a capacity of 550 megawatts. This is a clear sign of solar’s growth potential.
The comparison between the price of solar and the number of solar installations speaks for itself. This shows that the momentum of the solar industry is huge, and that progress is unlikely to stop anytime soon.