In the last year, the solar industry saw more robust expansion than ever before, growing 41% in 2013. That's great news, considering carbon emissions have also reached a record high — in 2013, they increased by their fastest rate in 30 years, according to the World Meteorological Organization. Its report also showed that greenhouse gases were 142% higher than they were in 1750, before the Industrial Revolution.
Earlier this summer, the Obama administration and the EPA laid out rules to cut carbon pollution produced by coal plants, the largest producer of carbon emissions, by 30% before 2030. Research and development of renewable energy and adoption of alternative energy sources such as solar power are still slow going, but they seem to be heading in the right direction.
Here are 10 statistics about the state of the solar power industry to get you up to speed.
1. Two-thirds of all solar PV capacity has been installed since 2011
That's some serious growth. Two-thirds of all solar capacity worldwide was installed since January 2011. It's even more impressive because, the preceding four decades only saw 50 gigawatts of solar power installed worldwide, according to research by Green Tech Media.
2. Solar energy employment in the US has increased by 20%
According to Washington DC-based nonprofit research organization, The Solar Foundation, the US solar industry had 20% more jobs in 2013 than it did in 2012. The report also stated that the industry grew 53% in the last four years, adding nearly 50,000 jobs. Currently, there are more than 143,000 people employed by the solar industry today.
3. A solar PV system is now installed every four minutes
According to Green Tech Media (GTM) research, the US is now installing one photovoltaic system every four minutes. If the market continues to grow at this pace, by 2016 there will be a system installed every 20 seconds. This is huge growth since 2006, when one was installed every 80 minutes.
4. California leads the way for solar generation
California is far and away the leader in the solar industry. According to the state's website, there are more than 242,000 solar projects throughout the state with 2,279 megawatts installed. Los Angeles leads with 238 megawatts, and San Diego comes in second with 182 megawatts. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the next leading states are:
- North Carolina
- New Jersey
- New York
5. The US solar market grew 41% last year
Photovoltaic installations increased 41% over 2012 to reach 4,751 MW, according to GTM Research and the SEIA's Solar Market Insight Year in Review 2013. Solar was the second largest source of new energy electricity generation in the US (natural gas was first), and 410 megawatts of concentrating solar power came online, according to the report.
6. China plans to add 70 gigawatts of solar power
The world's biggest carbon contributor, China, is making strides to harness clean energy. The country has set a goal of tripling solar installations to get to 70 gigawatts by 2017. By the World Health Organization's standards China's air, when last measured, contained more than 20 times the level of particulate matter in the air than what is normally deemed safe. The country has since tried to start lowering those levels, and solar power plants are an important part of that plan.
7. On average, solar panels are less than 18% efficient
Solar panels can be much more efficient than that, but they're extremely efficient. Most rooftop panels are less than 18% efficient (often reaching only 11-15% accuracy), which means they turn that amount of light from the sun into electricity. The efficiency of solar panels has improved, but they have a long way to go before they are competitive with coal and natural gas. Researchers at the University of California Berkeley said they have developed solar cells that are up to 25% efficient.
8. 25% of roofs are suitable for solar panels
According to data from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the primary US research and development center for renewable energy, only a quarter of commercial and residential rooftops are suitable for solar panels. If that's the case, it provides an opportunity for crowdsourced solar projects (using services like Mosaic and Divvy) and community solar projects to drive the initiative of shared solar energy.
9. The majority of costs for solar power aren't for the hardware
Research released by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory late last year looked into the full cost of installing solar power and found that non-hardware costs, like development and financing, accounted for 57% of commercial systems and 64% of residential systems in 2012. As the hardware prices continue to drop, due to Chinese imports and large-scale manufacturing, people are now looking at ways to drop the prices for these additional costs.
10. The cost of solar panels have declined 80% since 2008
According to a recent report by the International Renewable Energy Agency, an intergovernmental organization that promotes the adoption of renewable energy, the cost of solar PV panels has decreased 80% between 2009 and 2013 and they will continue to drop. Better efficiencies and decreasing technology costs contribute to the rapidly dropping prices, the agency said in its report. However, most of the cost reduction is currently occurring in the production process, not in the storage and transmission of the energy, which is the main hurdle for the industry to overcome.
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Lyndsey Gilpin has nothing to disclose. She doesn't hold investments in the technology companies she covers.
Lyndsey Gilpin is a former Staff Writer for TechRepublic, covering sustainability and entrepreneurship. She's co-author of the book Follow the Geeks.