How Many Solar Facts Do You Know?
Solar facts are fascinating! Beyond the very basics of solar energy, there is a plethora of information about this renewable energy source that will keep you asking for more. Here are 10 interesting facts about solar energy. How many on this list do you already know?
1) Solar Energy Is The Most Abundant Energy Resource On The Planet
The journal Scientific American explains that in terms of abundance on Earth, solar energy “dwarfs all the other renewable energy resources combined—including wind, hydropower and geothermal”.
To add concrete numbers to this statement, 173,000 terawatts of solar energy is continuously hitting the Earth at any given moment, which is over 10,000 times the world’s total energy usage.
And the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) explains how, in terms of capacity, solar energy could easily replace fossil fuels: “More solar energy strikes the surface of the earth in one hour than is provided by all of the fossil energy consumed globally in a year.”
The abundance and potential of solar energy are pretty impressive!
2) Solar Energy Is The Cleanest Energy Source
According to Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), solar energy is the cleanest renewable energy source currently available.
Of course, the term “clean” is relative and depends on how you are measuring environmental impacts and emissions. With this in mind, the information below in conjunction with our Solar Energy Fact #3 will help explain why exactly solar energy is considered so “clean” and why the demand for solar energy is ever-increasing.
3) Solar Energy Is Less Environmentally Damaging Than Hydropower
Although hydropower may currently be the cheapest renewable energy source in the U.S., hydropower has more negative environmental impacts than solar. These environmental impacts of hydropower include:
damming of rivers and streams (which affects animal, fish, and plant habitats and can cause geological damage that leads to earthquakes)
flooding of large areas of land, which can destroy habitat and force human and animal relocation
building dams alter the natural water table level and can negatively affect wildlife such as salmon
4) Solar Energy Has Some Notable Advantages Over Wind Energy
As explained in Fact #2, solar energy PV systems can easily be scaled up or down in order to meet energy demands. Furthermore, PV technology can be used pretty much anywhere in the world. Other renewable energy sources, such as wind energy, do not enjoy this level of flexibility and versatility.
“Wind turbines can take a lot of space and can be noisy, so they’re better suited for rural rather than urban locations.”
“Wind energy works best in windy places, not surprisingly. Solar power is versatile– Germany is currently the largest market for solar panels, even though it’s not known as a particularly sunny place. In other words: it’s more important to live in a windy place if you want to use wind turbines than it is to live in a sunny place if you want to use solar panels.”
“Wind turbines require maintenance, and solar is virtually maintenance-free.”
Another point of flexibility of solar energy is where the electricity is generated as compared to where it will actually be used. Solar energy can be generated both on location or nearby where the energy will actually be used (which is called “distributed generation“). However, it can also be generated off-site in a way similar to most traditional power plants (which is called a “utility-scale solar power plant“).
5) Solar Technology Was Utilized Way Back In 7 BCE!
Solar energy technology dates all the way back to 7 BCE! During this time, glass and mirrors were first used to harness the energy of the sun to create fire. Since then, solar technology has continued to develop into the flourishing industry it is today.
More solar energy historical milestones:
In 1839, a French scientist named Edmond Becquerel defined the photovoltaic effect (and he was only 19 years old at the time!). This discovery was pivotal in the development of solar energy as a whole and the eventual creation of photovoltaic solar panels.1876 was another milestone year for solar energy.
Since 1956, technology has been improving to the point where solar energy is becoming more and more accessible and, in some cases, more cost effective than some other non-renewable energy sources.
6) Demand For Solar Energy Is At An All-Time High And Continues To Grow
Between 2010 and 2014, the percentage of installed solar energy grew 418%, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. In 2010, the solar generating capacity in the U.S. was 2,326 MW while in 2014 it clocked in at 12,057 MW. That’s an increase of over 9,000 megawatts in only 4 years!
In 2014, the more than 480,000 total solar energy systems installed in the U.S. had enough generating capacity to provide enough power to 2.4 million typical U.S. households.
7) Solar Made Its Commercial Debut In Space
Although solar energy was too cost prohibitive for the average person to purchase in the 1950s, NASA used solar panels on their satellites during this time period. The first solar-powered satellite launched in 1958, followed by three more satellites with solar panels attached that same year. The first PV satellite was called the “Vanguard I” and is noted as the first commercial use of solar energy in history.
The Vanguard I’s solar cells operated for seven years, even with this early stage of solar technology development. In comparison, the regular batteries providing energy to another one of the satellite’s transmitters only worked for 20 days.
The Vanguard I is still orbiting the earth today.
8) There Are Two Ways to Capture Solar Energy
Photovoltaic (PV) systems are the most commonly recognized solar energy systems. A photovoltaic (PV) system converts solar energy directly into electricity. These systems use photovoltaic cells made out of some type of semiconducting material (such as silicone) in this energy generating process. When light hits this semiconductor, usable energy is produced.
Concentrating solar power (CSP) is a second (less commonly known) way to convert sunlight into electricity. CSP devices use mirrors to concentrate sunlight in order to heat up some other material (usually a liquid such as water). This heated liquid creates steam, which is then used to power a steam turbine or generator. These turbines or generators, in turn, generate electricity.
9) China, Germany, And Japan Are The Top 3 Solar Countries In The World
China boasted an impressive 43.5 gigawatts of solar energy installed by 2016, Germany with 39.5 gigawatts and Japan 43 gigawatts.
In 2009, Germany had 9.8 GW of installed solar energy, China 0.305 GW, and Italy 1.2 GW. These impressive growth rates between 2009 and 2016 lead us to solar fact #10…
10) The Solar Industry Is One Of The Fastest Growing Job Markets In The U.S.
As quoted by Rhone Resch, the president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), “Solar energy continues to be one of the fastest-growing industries in the United States.”
To put this growth in numbers:
As of 2015, the solar industry employs nearly 175,000 Americans.
The solar industry adds more than $15 billion a year into the U.S. economy.
There are over 6,000 solar companies in the U.S., spread across all 50 states.
The U.S. now has over 17,500 MW of cumulative solar electric capacity, which is enough to provide power to over 3.5 million average U.S. homes.