Solar Energy Facts: Top 30 Interesting Insights & Trends

Discover and learn more on fascinating facts about solar energy in this comprehensive list.

Solar Power Generation

– Solar is the most abundant energy source on earth, and is the fastest-growing form of new energy generation.

– Currently, solar PV (photovoltaic) generates around 4% of the world’s global electricity, using semiconductor materials such as silicon to convert sunlight directly into electricity.

– A less common form of solar energy is Concentrated Solar Power (CSP), which are large solar plants comprised of mirrors or lenses that concentrate sunlight on to a very small area to heat oils, sands or other thermal materials, generating heat that drives turbines to produce electricity. CSP comprises less than 1% of installed solar generating power globally.

Solar Energy Storage

– The most common type of battery storage system used for storing solar energy is lithium ion batteries, which comprises more than 95% of all global battery production capacity.

– A battery storage system, when paired with solar, can enable system owners to better manage their solar energy consumption, storing solar power generated during sunny periods to be used either at night or on cloudy days.

– Battery warranties are normally provided at 10 years, which is below the standard 20-25 years for solar panels, although some leading providers may offer extended battery warranty coverages.

Environmental Impact of Solar Energy

– While portions of the solar panel production process are still quite carbon intensive, a typical solar panel offsets its own carbon footprint within three years, thus operating for more than 20 years as a completely carbon-free source of electricity generation.

– Solar panels made with polysilicon are the majority, and a growing number of manufacturers are adopting lower-carbon methods for producing this polysilicon, such as hydro-powered facilities, thereby lowering the panel’s carbon footprint further.

– More than 90% of the components of a solar panel can be recycled, with many government-led and industry-backed recycling programs available in most solar markets. And a greater share of solar in our energy mix serves to shift reliance and investment away from fossil fuels.

Solar Energy History

– Historians are confident that as early as 7th century B.C., ancient Greeks and Romans had learned to harness the sun’s rays for heating and warmth, concentrating solar through magnifying glasses to light torches, and constructing their homes in such a way as to take advantage of the sun’s rays at various times of the day.

– The earliest photovoltaic (PV) cell – whereby the sun’s rays are used to energize electrons in semiconductor materials to generate electricity – was famously developed by 19-year-old French Physicist Edmond Becquerel, way back in 1839.

– Solar panels first entered the public consciousness in 1969, when they played a vital role in helping to power the Apollo 11 moon landings.

Solar Energy Efficiency

– The average solar panel efficiency is around 20%, which means that a solar panel can convert 20% of the sunlight that hits it, into usable electrical power.

– Scientists working in the industry are confident that new harvesting techniques made possible by materials such as perovskite can increase that efficiency up to 30% within the next few years.

– Multijunction solar cells – those that contain many more photoactive layers – can reach even higher efficiencies, even up to 50% in laboratory conditions. However, realizing this technology in the real world is still likely many decades away.

Global Solar Energy Potential

– The sun pours down around 173,000 terawatts of solar energy on to the planet’s surface continuously, which is more than 10,000 times our total energy use.

– The earth could be powered entirely with solar panels covering an area of 191,000 square miles (approximately 51.4 billion solar panels), which is roughly the same size as Spain.

– Solar energy could, by 2050, comprise 70% of a completely 100% renewable energy world, provided the technology was coupled with wind power, some hydro, and storage.

– In the USA, the famous neon lights of Las Vegas – indeed, the entire city – operate on 100% renewable energy from solar panels.

Solar Energy and Economics

– In 1977, a solar panel cost $76.67 per watt; today, that price is around $0.16 cents/W – which is an incredible cost decrease. Early solar panels also had much lower efficiency and power output, whereas today a homeowner can meet their entire energy needs for more than 20 years with just a few thousand dollars investment.

– Over the typical lifespan of a residential solar system, homeowners save anywhere between $20,000 and $97,000.

– The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) calculates that a home’s value increases by approximately $20 for every $1 saving on energy bills, so if a home can cut their utility bills by $700 per year, that property’s value increases by $14,000.

Solar Jobs and Sustainable Development

– The solar industry is proving adept at generating sustainable job growth in many countries, including the US, most of Europe, Australia and East Asia.

– Jobs in solar in the US grew by 3.5% in 2022, while in the EU currently more than 400,000 people are employed directly or indirectly in the industry, with projections for that figure to reach more than 750,000 by 2030.

– Because solar energy is powered by the sun, the sector is immune from the price shocks – and resulting job and career uncertainty – that impact other energy sectors such as oil, coal and gas thanks to being a free and natural resource. Politically, solar is cross-party vote winner, so the sector will likely always be supported by government and the general populace at large.

– Small solar-powered microgrids have been transformative for off-grid regions of Africa and Asia, providing communities with affordable, reliable, non-polluting and sustainable electricity, thereby boosting education, opportunity and entrepreneurship in severely disadvantaged regions.

Solar Energy Challenges

– Because solar power does not work at night, energy storage is an essential pairing if solar is to continue to grow. It is also never nighttime everywhere: interconnection between countries can also help to share the solar bounty.

– Grid connection constraints are a bottleneck for solar deployment in some countries. As more and more solar power is added to outdated grids, it is increasingly curtailed – ie, discarded – because there is nowhere for it to go. Bigger, more modern, smarter grids are needed to solve this problem.

– Solar power can only work for mankind if it is installed and maintained. Currently, the number of trained installers is too low worldwide to keep pace with production capacity increases. Cheaper solar means the world wants more of it – and that requires thousands, perhaps millions, more trained installers.

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