Top 51 Interesting Facts About Solar Energy

facts about solar energy

Here are the top 51 solar energy facts:

Facts about Solar History

  1. The first commercially-viable photovoltaic solar cell was invented in 1954 by a physicist at Bell Labs, starting the process that would lead to today’s solar panel. This solar cell used an element, silicon, not used previously for this purpose. Using silicon, Bell Labs was able to produce more power from their solar cell than any design before it. Bell Lab’s solar cell was 4% efficient (compared to today’s typical solar panel that is 18% efficient).
  2. In 1883, Charles Fritts created the first solar cell, made of selenium on a backing of gold. The solar cell was only 1% efficient, partly due to the selenium itself (which doesn’t conduct electricity well) so it wasn’t strong enough to produce any useful power. However, this laid the stage for advances in the decades to follow.
  3. Solar panels produce direct current (DC) electricity, which flows in only one direction and which Thomas Edison pioneered in the late 1800s. Eventually, Nicola Tesla’s more adaptable alternating current (AC) won out for use in the grid, in part due to its use widespread use during the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.
  4. Solar technology has come a long way. In 1963, Japan installed the largest solar system ever created: a 242 watt solar system on a lighthouse. Today, 56 years later, the average residential solar system is composed of 20 250 watt solar panels, for a total of 5000 watts.
  5. Today, the largest solar plant in the world is Solar Star, located near Rosamond, California. With a capacity of 579 megawatts, the plant creates enough electricity to cover about 255,000 homes. To put this size in perspective, Solar Star is 239 million % larger than the record set by Japan in 1963 (see previous fact)!
  6. Solar has always been high profile. In 1921, Albert Einstein won the Nobel Prize for a paper he wrote on the photoelectric effect in 1905, paving the way for the invention of the solar panel. Many in the scientific community were initially very skeptical of this new theory.
  7. The first solar car was built in 1958 by the International Rectifier Company, who manufactured electrical equipment. As the basis for the automobile, they used a 1912 Baker electric. In the end, the converted car had over 10,000 solar cells mounted on the roof!
  8. With a top speed of 57 miles per hour, the Sky Ace TIGA, built by Japan’s Ashiya University, set a new world record in 2014 for fastest solar car ever built.

Solar Energy Facts

  1. The amount of solar energy that hits the earth in one hour could fulfill all the earth’s energy needs for an entire year! However, due to mountains, oceans, and other geographical constraints, most of this energy is impossible to collect through solar panels.
  2. The entire world uses solar energy every day. Trees need sunlight for photosynthesis. Humans need sunlight for Vitamin D. Rain is created through evaporation brought on by the sun’s rays. Photovoltaic solar (solar panels) is simply a new way to utilize this energy.
  3. Solar energy produces 80% less carbon emissions than fossil fuels.
  4. There are two main ways to capture solar energy: passive and active. Passive solar doesn’t use any mechanical devices includes greenhouses, sun rooms, thermal solar panels. Passive solar frequently depends on building design and orientation to capture the sun’s heat and dissipate it slowly through the designated area. Active solar is usually more complicated, such as turning the sun’s light into electricity as photovoltaic solar panels do.
  5. Solar thermal is a method of passive solar that uses the sun’s heat to warm liquids. It can be small panels on a home’s roof that preheats water before it goes to the water heater or even large power plants where steam is produced which then powers a generator to produce electricity.
  6. Solar cells transfer the sun’s energy into electricity. A typical residential solar panel is made up of 60 solar cells, each producing about 5 watts of power.
  7. A professor at the University of Wisconsin has just created solar fabric through dyes that can conduct electricity. This marks a major turning point in wearable solar, as solar backpacks, bags, and jackets previously had more typical-looking solar attached somewhere on the item. What an eyesore!
  8. Similar to other construction projects, solar installations are subject to safety codes set forth in the National Electrical Code and the International Building Code. This includes codes for grounding, safe electrical connections, wire sizes, and wind and snow loads.
  9. As a safety precaution, all solar hardware on roofs – including solar panels, aluminum rails, microinverters, and conduit – is grounded to protect against lightening.
  10. Solar panels for residential applications can be one of two types: monocrystalline silicon or polycrystalline silicon. Historically, monocrystalline panels were more popular due to their higher efficiency, but they were also more expensive. Today, polycrystalline is much more prevalent in the US, due to both its lower price point and that, due to technological advances in the last few years, its efficiency is now on par with monocrystalline panels.
  11. Solar adds value! An average sized, homeowner-owned solar system boosts the property value $15,000 according to an 11 year study from the US Department of Energy.
  12. For those who can’t install solar on their roof (renters or apartment owners, for instance), community solar is a fast-growing alternative to roof-top solar. With community solar, a 3rd party (often a non-profit or utility company) builds a mid-sized solar system in which individuals can purchase a certain number of solar panels. The electricity produced by the solar system is put into the grid and the owners typically see a credit on their bills.
  13. The first community solar project was initiated in 2006 in Washington state. Now, 25 US states have at least one community solar project.
  14. Homeowners have a wide range of financing options for their solar system, including cash purchase, loan, lease, or power purchase agreement.
  15. Your solar systems’ production is measured in kilowatt-hours, which is the number of watts produced in a single hour (1 kilowatt=1000 watts). How many kilowatt-hours a solar system produces depends on the size of the solar system as well as how much sunlight the solar panels capture.
  16. Solar systems can be installed on most roof types, including shingles, tiles, and metal roofs. Specialized attachment hardware exists for each roof type, including special hooks that reach under clay roof tiles to connect the solar system to the underlayment of the roof.
  17. One of the biggest drawbacks to solar panels has always been poor weather – if the sun’s not shining, your panels can’t make energy! However, a new graphene-coated solar panel designed by the University of China could allow solar panels to produce energy even in rainstorms!
  18. If you have a mechanical electric meter on the side of your house (you know, the ones with the dial that spins), you’re in for an exciting moment when you turn your solar system on for the first time. You can watch as the dial literally slows down, stops, then starts going backwards as you pump electricity back into the grid!
  19. Most residential solar installations come with a monitoring system, usually accessed via a website, that lets homeowners see how much energy they’ve produced, avoided carbon emissions, and any maintenance or issues the system needs.
  20. In July 2016, the Solar Impulse 2 became the first plane powered solely by renewable energy to circumnavigate the globe. The plane had 17,000 solar cells, a wingspan of 235 feet, and an average speed of 45 mph.
  21. The space industry was the first major adopter of solar panels. For most industries, save the toy and radio industries who used solar to power small electronics, the cost of solar was simply too high! Space flight needed a reliable energy source that wouldn’t simply die out over time (like batteries) and solar came about in the nick of time!

Solar Industry Facts

  1. In 2015, solar accounted for 30% of all new electric generation in the US, up from just 4% in 2010. In the first quarter of 2016, that number jumped to 64%! The majority of this growth in solar is from utility-scale solar farms.
  2. While the solar industry is growing quickly, solar currently accounts for just 0.6% of all electricity generation in the US (both coal and natural gas account for 33% each).
  3. Homeowners love solar! By 2013, 400,000 US homes had solar installed. By 2020, the US Department of Energy predicts this number will jump to 3.8 million.
  4. The US solar industry employs almost 209,000 individuals. Compare this to 85,000 in the wind industry.
  5. Homeowners who go solar can save between $8500 and $34,000 over 20 years, depending on the state.
  6. In many states, including New York, Colorado, South Carolina, Iowa, and Minnesota, going solar has a better ROI (return on investment) than the S&P 500!
  7. The US, China, and Japan account for about 2/3 of the global solar market.
  8. ArizonaCalifornia, Nevada and New Mexico see the highest solar irradiance of any states, making them prime locations for solar power. Washington state sees the lowest solar irradiance levels.
  9. Arizona, California and North Carolina have the most solar of any states in the US, followed by New Jersey and Nevada. California alone has 3.3 million homes with solar!
  10. Although New Jersey, North Carolina, and Massachusetts don’t see high solar irradiance like the southwest states, available financial incentives drive serious interest in solar installations.
  11. Be on the lookout for solar with batteries. Solar-plus-storage comprised just 4 megawatts in 2014, but is expected to reach 769 megawatts by 2020.
  12. Grid parity is here! In 2016, residential solar is at grid parity in 20 states – most notably California, Massachusetts and Hawaii.
  13. Net metering and other financial incentives help bring the cost of solar down. As of July 2016, 41 states have enacted net metering.
  14. Commercial solar installations have eclipsed residential installations. In 2016, 1300 megawatts of residential solar will be installed. Commercial solar installations will triple that number to 4,050 megawatts.
  15. The average size of a residential solar system is 5 kilowatts, or 20 solar panels – about the same surface area as parking 5 cars on your roof.
  16. The solar industry is growing like no other. The US solar industry grew by 57% annually from 2005 to 2015, compared to 4.2% for wireless telecom industry and 13.5% for the entertainment industry.
  17. The average installation takes 75 hours, about 1 to 3 days for an installation team.
  18. Big businesses also see the benefit of going solar. At 89 installed megawatts, Walmart is by far the biggest solar adopter, followed by Costco (47 megawatts), and Kohl’s (45 megawatts).
  19. Quickly falling prices for solar panels is a major contributor to the explosive growth of solar. From 2009 to 2015, the install price for solar dropped from $7.50 per watt to about $2.00 per watt, about a 17% decrease annually.
  20. In 2015, the average payback period for a solar installation was 7.8 years.
  21. According to researchers from Oxford University, if the cost of solar power continues to steadily decline, solar will be able to meet 20% of the world’s energy needs by 2027. Their forecasting method looked at historical data from 53 different solar technologies.
  22. In India, installing solar panels over water canals has been trending in the last few years. In 2016, the Maharashtra State Power Generation Company released plans to install 1250 MW of solar over canals, lakes, reservoirs, and other bodies of water in the state. This intriguing system not only provides more stable electricity, but also prevents evaporation from these water sources.


  • by Ryan Austin
  • |
  • September 7, 2016

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