The United States is on track to top 3 million solar PV installations this year, adding 1 million photovoltaic panels in just two years, according to a study by Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables and the Solar Energy Industries Association. The number will exceed 4 million in 2023, the study says.
It took more than 40 years for the first million installations. “The rapid growth in the solar industry has completely reshaped the energy conversation in this country,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, SEIA president and CEO, in a press release announcing the study. The 2.7 million solar systems installed through September 2020 have the capacity to generate nearly 89 gigawatts of electricity. The solar industry employs about 250,000 Americans, the SEIA says.
The expansion of solar is part of a growing movement toward renewable energy. Green energy made up 22.5 percent of all electricity generated in the country in 2020, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Solar energy was responsible for about 14.7 percent of the green energy generated.
|Energy source||Generation (in thousand megawatt hours)||% of total renewable energy|
When spending the money required for a solar installation, homeowners will want to make sure they’re getting value for their investment.
Some questions to consider asking a prospective installer
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The amount of electricity generated by renewable methods, including hydroelectric, wind, geothermal, biomass and solar, increased by more than 28 percent from 2016 to 2020. As more Americans voice concerns about global warming, there’s no reason to think more people won’t consider a move toward green energy. For most, that means solar energy.
When it comes to solar energy, California generates the most. The following chart shows how much electricity the top 10 states generated in 2020, as well as the percentage of the U.S. total, all according to the EIA.
(*) Indicates at least part of the state is a deregulated electricity market
The top 10 is split half and half between regulated and deregulated markets. Most states regulate their electricity markets, meaning customers generally get their energy from the local utility. It is generated by sources that include coal, natural gas, nuclear, and, depending on the utility, a mix of renewables.
In states with deregulated markets, customers may pick their provider. Some providers sell electricity plans sourced with varying degrees of renewable energy. Even in those states, the power that comes to a person’s house comes from a variety of sources, including fossil fuels and nuclear. Providers buy renewable energy credits to offset the electricity use of customers who purchase green plans.
Regardless of whether a customer’s market is regulated or deregulated, there is an option for many homeowners – a residential solar system.
Rooftop or small solar arrays are known as small-scale solar installations. Once again, according to EIA statistics, California leads the way:
That’s a big chunk of money, but there are some ways to manage it. The average cost of installing a residential solar system ranges from $15,000 to $25,000, depending on the size of the system, according to the Center for Sustainable Energy. While that’s a big upfront cost, there are ways to make it a gentler hit on a homeowner’s budget.
The graphic above shows how the photovoltaic panels on a home’s roof capture sunlight (even on cloudy days). The panels act as semiconductors; they have negative and positive layers attached to a conductor. Together, those elements create an electric circuit that turn light into electricity. From there, the energy goes to an inverter that makes it safe for household use. Then it travels to a meter for immediate use or to a battery for storage.
Following are common questions many homeowners have about solar installations:
Homeowners considering solar can take the first step by getting a quote from a qualified solar installer. There’s no obligation, but they can get the information they need to proceed.