Solar Energy Facts

The attached article was first published in the e-journal CleanTechnica. It was authored by Zachary Shahan who serves as CleanTechnica’s director and chief editor. In accord with Zach’s request, I am reprinting here the basic facts in the article to give them increased visibility. The purpose of the article is discussed in its second paragraph. The charts referred to in the article’s title can be found in the original article on the CleanTechnica website.

The facts attest to the reality that an energy revolution is underway, as the world transitions from an energy system largely dependent on fossil and nuclear energy to one increasingly dependent on renewable energy, and one in which solar energy is playing an increasingly important role.

10 Solar Energy Facts & Charts You (& Everyone) Should Know
August 17th, 2016 by Zachary Shahan

I sometimes forget that not everyone has the time to read all 9,190 solar energy articles we’ve published here on CleanTechnica — or even 10% of them, or 1% of them. Okay, who am I kidding — most people haven’t read a single solar energy article published on CleanTechnica.

Our goal isn’t just to be a cheerleader for the people who have gone solar and who have switched to electric cars, and it isn’t just to help keep industry insiders informed. Our goal is to help society help itself by inspiring more people to switch to cleantech. Part of that is sharing useful information that most people aren’t aware of about solar costs & incentives. Part of that is trying to persuade people to cut the death toll. Part of that is covering new solar tech that may interest you. Part of that is debunking media and fossil/utility misinformation.

It hit me after writing that last piece, though, that there are really a handful of solar energy facts that few people know but that I think should be common knowledge in a healthy, democratic, free-market society. That’s how I got to writing this article.

You can do your part on this point, of course, by 1) sharing these more widely than you share the typical article, and 2) throwing additional facts and charts into the comments. (Also, yes, I will update the figures in this article as they change or as more up-to-date figures become available — so check in again from time to time.)

1. The price of a solar panel in 1975 was ~227 times higher than it is today — $101.5/watt versus $0.447/watt.

solar price drop installations

2. The price of a solar panel today is ~30% what it was in 2010 — $0.447/watt versus $1.50/watt. That’s a 70% discount!

solar panel price drop

3. The lowest wholesale solar price bid from a solar project developer (unsubsidized) is 2.91¢/kWh. That’s cheaper than what new natural gas, coal, or nuclear power can provide practically anywhere in the world.


4. Even excluding that record-low bid, and not taking into account the large social costs of coal and natural gas electricity, utility-scale solar power is cheaper than new coal, nuclear, natural gas peaking, and IGCC power plants. It is comparable to combined cycle natural gas power plants, but again, that is without taking into account the social costs of pollution from extracting and burning natural gas.

5. 99% of new electricity generation capacity added in the US in Q1 2016 came from renewable energy sources, 64% from solar. (Findings from my report, linked above, were confirmed by GTM Research & SEIA.)

US Renewable Energy Capacity – Q1 2016

6. The average installed cost of a residential rooftop solar power system in the US was $3.21/Wdc in Q1 2016.

solar power installed prices

7. The country leading annual solar power installations is now China, with the US at #3.


8. Overall, solar power capacity grew >10x over from 2009 to 2015, and >100x over from 2002 to 2015.

9. US solar energy industry added more jobs in 2015 than the US oil & gas extraction & pipeline industries added combined, and grew 12x faster than the US economy as a whole.

US Solar Jobs Greater Than Oil + Gas Extraction & Pipeline Sectors Combined

10. Solar energy potential dwarfs the potential from every other energy resource on the planet. (Note that, in the following chart, the energy potential for renewables is annual energy potential, whereas the energy potential from non-renewables is for total known reserves.)

solar energy potential
“2009 Estimate of finite and renewable planetary energy reserves (Terawatt-years). Total recoverable reserves are shown for the finite resources. Yearly potential is shown for the renewables.” (Perez & Perez, 2015)