Solar Energy Profile
Solar energy is a clean, renewable energy that may be used to supplement or replace existing power sources. Solar energy has many applications; a few include heating water, generating power to operate remote equipment and helping to reduce the reliance on overhead, electrical light sources.
The “solar cell” or photovoltaic (PV) cell technology was discovered in 1954 by Bell Telephone researchers. Just a few years later, PVs were already being used to power U.S. space satellites. The success of PVs in space created opportunities for commercial applications that continue to grow 75 years later.
Sales and Market Share
Even with successful applications in the space program, the solar industry did not experience rapid growth until the oil embargos of 1973 and 1979. With support from Federal and state tax incentives, the solar industry grew slowly over the next 10 years. Through consolidation of companies and restructuring of tax credit programs, the number of firms has decreased since 1990, yet the growth rate of solar collector equipment sales continues to grow.
Solar thermal collectors are divided into low-, medium- and high-temperature collectors. Low-temperature collectors that collect less than 110 degrees Fahrenheit are used to heat swimming pools and low-grade water and space heaters. Medium-temperature collectors (greater than 110 degrees F, generally 140 to 180 degrees F) are mainly used for hot water heating. High-temperature collectors (180 degrees F or higher) are used primarily by utilities and independent producers to generate electricity for a grid. Total revenue of all solar thermal collector shipments was $96.7 million in 2009, up from $81.3 million in 2008, according to the most recent U.S. government report.
Domestic shipments of solar thermal collectors were 12.2 million square feet (sq. ft.) in 2009. The residential market is the primary market for solar thermal collectors, accounting for 10.2 million sq. ft. of solar thermal collectors and 84 percent of total shipments, with swimming pool heating being the most common application.
Usage and Demand
In 2016, total U.S. net generation of all electricity was more than 4 trillion kilowatthours. Coal generated 30 percent, nuclear generated 20 percent and natural gas accounted for 34 percent. Petroleum was less than one percent. Other renewables, including hydro, accounted for 15 percent. Solar energy accounted for 0.9 percent of all energy generated in the United States. Even with this growth, solar energy still accounts for just under one percent of the United States electricity consumption.
American Solar Energy Society
Electricity Explained, Energy Information Administration.
Solar Thermal Collector Manufacturing Activities, Energy Information Administration.
Other Useful Resources and Information
Impact of Declining Oil Prices on the Future of Solar Energy, Don Hofstrand, February 2015
Has Solar's Day in the Sun Finally Come?, Don Hofstrand, March 2015
Newsletters and News Sources
Photo Voltaics Times e-Newsletter
Photo Voltaics - Alternative Energy News
Solar Energy e-Newsletter
Solar Power - Extreme Tech
Solar Power - Alternative Energy News
Concentrating Solar Power Research - NREL
Photovoltaics - NREL
How Solar Energy Works – Union of Concerned Scientists.
Solar Water Heating – Union of Concerned Scientists.
Solar Project Property Rights: Securing Your Place in the Sun - Stoel Rivers, LLC
Solar Energy System Design, Engineering, Construction, and Installation Agreements - Stoel Rivers, LLC
Financing a Solar Project - Stoel Rives, LLC
Permitting and Land Use -Stoel Rives, LLC
Tribal Laws and Land Issues - Stoel Rives, LLC
Regulatory and Transmission-Related Issues - Stoel Rives, LLC
Power Purchase Agreements: Distributed Generation Projects - Stoel Rives, LLC
Power Purchase Agreements: Utility-Scale Projects - Stoel Rives, LLC
Monetizing the “Green” in Green Power: Renewable Energy Certificates - Stoel Rives, LLC
Foreign Corrupt Practices Act - Stoel Rives, LLC
Securities Regulation - Stoel Rives, LLC
Tax Issues - Stoel Rives, LLC
American Solar Energy Society
Argonne National Laboratory
Concentrating Solar Power and Sun Labs – Sandia National Laboratories
Energy Future Coalition
National Solar Thermal Test Facility – Sandia National Laboratories
Photovoltaics – Sandia National Laboratories
Solar Energy Industries Association
Solar Powering American Home - U.S. DOE.
Solar - U.S. DOE.
The Solar Guide
- American Solar Energy Society (ASES) - This national organization promotes the widespread use of solar energy. It publishes Solar Today.
- Commercial Solar Heating, Florida Solar Energy Center - Includes links on water heating, pool heating and space heating.
- A Consumer’s Guide to Buying a Solar Electric System, NREL, 1999 - This guide provides information on selecting a photovoltaic system.
- Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency; Interstate Renewable Energy Council, North Carolina Solar Center and U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) - This is a comprehensive listing of state, local, utility and federal incentives that promote renewable energy and energy efficiency.
- Federal Tax Credits for Energy Efficiency
- Florida Solar Energy Center, University of Central Florida - As the state’s energy research institute, the center conducts research, tests and certifies solar systems, and develops education programs.
- On-Farm Renewable Energy Production Survey (2009), 2007 Census of Agriculture, National Ag Statistics Service, USDA, 2011 - This energy survey was the first on-farm renewable energy production survey conducted at the national level. The survey provides additional information on energy produced by wind turbines, solar panels and methane digesters that were in operation on farms in 2009. Detailed data includes the installation cost, percent of cost from outside funding, year installed and total amount of utility savings from the use of on-farm renewable energy production.
- Renewable Energy Explained, Energy Information Administration, U.S. DOE.
- Renewable Energy Opportunities on the Farm, ATTRA, NCAT, 2006 - This publication introduces three renewable energy resources that can be attractive and economically feasible for the farm: solar, wind and renewable fuels. Intended to be an overview, the publication provides information on wind, solar and renewable fuel technologies; cost and savings; site planning; and financial incentives.
- Solar Electric Power Association - This association facilitates utility use and integration of solar electric power.
- Solar Energy Applications for Farms and Ranches, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, U.S. DOE - Basic information about using solar energy on farms and ranches.
- Solar Energy, NREL.
- Solar Energy Technologies Program, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, U.S. DOE.
- Solar Market Updates and Trends, Interstate Renewable Energy Council - This report provides public data on U.S. solar installations by technology, state and market sector.
- Solar Tribune
- Dairy Farmers Milk Free Energy, Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority, New Zealand, 2009 - The four dairy farms described in this New Zealand case study use a variety of solar water heating and heat recovery systems to reduce energy costs.
- Owning a PV/Wind Hybrid System: Being Your Own Utility, Wisconsin Focus on Energy, 2003 - Instead of extending an electric line from the local utility, a Wisconsin couple installed a PV and wind system to power their residence.
- Pinehold Gardens, Farm Energy.org/ - This community-supported farm in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, added a second photovoltaic solar system in 2006.
- Solar Innovator: Alta Devices, U.S. DOE, YouTube, June 2012 - Alta Devices produces solar cells that convert sunlight into electricity at world-record-breaking levels of efficiency.
Links Checked October 2017.