Posted on February 08, 2015 by Ryan Brown | 0 Comments
A "solar explosion" might sound like something you'd see on a cheesy disaster science-fiction movie, but the real thing is anything but disastrous. It's actually part of our salvation as a civilization. We're not about to give up electricity, so we have to find a way to generate enough of it from clean sources (as well as reduce our consumption through energy efficiency and good old personal responsibility/frugality). Right now, solar looks like the most likely savior: Price per watt has been dropping exponentially over the past decades while the cost of other, dirty, sources has been going up.
This has led to what can only be called a solar explosion, with worldwide capacity going up over 50x in less than 10 years.
The map above shows the locations of solar plants in the US that have a capacity of more than 1-megawatt (so definitely not residential rooftop solar...) as of 2013 (the latest data available). You can see an animation of the past 30 years here. The thing that is most striking about it is that almost all the dots appear in the past few years.
In fact, just between 2008-2013, the country has added around 630 solar plants of that size (1 MW or greater). For just those 5 years, that represents a 1,200% increase in capacity, or about 6,000 MW! That's what I mean by explosion...
This is enough energy to power 1.7 million U.S. homes, and the DOE forecasts that it'll grow to 4 million homes by 2017.
This graph, also by the U.S. Department of Energy, shows the total solar capacity of the United States over time. Here again we can see the recent explosion in solar capacity (not just in the >1MW part of the industry), from barely registering in the graph to over 10 gigawatts and projected to keep growing fast in the coming years. And this doesn't take into account any breakthroughs that could make manufacturing much cheaper rather quickly (maybe a solar panel gigafactory?).
Here's the main reason for the boom. This chart shows the price per watt of solar power over the past few decades:
And of course, the US isn't the only place where solar power is exploding in popularity. For example, below you can see a huge new solar plant in South Africa (325,480 PV modules!):