Solar Energy in the United States

Sydney Shaw
December 3, 2017

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2017


Fig. 1: The cumulative installed capacities of solar PV in United States. By 2015 it has increased to 20 GW (Source: S. Shaw. After Mcelroy and Chen. [1])

In the United States, Solar energy has become more affordable and accessible than ever before. In fact, solar capacity has increased by 36%. By 2015 it has increased to 20 GW (See Fig. 1) and accounts for roughly 40% of all renewable projects completed in 2015. [1] Meanwhile, since 2008 the cost of utility-scale solar projects has decreased by 64%. With a decrease in the cost of solar projects and an increase in the instillation of solar power, there is about enough capacity to power almost 6 million homes in the United States. [2]

Economics of Solar Energy

Solar energy is becoming more economically efficient and is competitive with other conventional energy sources. [1] Because of this, the solar energy market is maturing rapidly across the United States. Also, the average cost of solar PV panels and solar electric systems have dropped by 50%. Breaking this down, compared to the first quarter of last year, the benchmarks fell by 6 percent for residential, 15 percent for commercial, and 29 percent for utility-scale systems. The increased use of solar energy has become a catalyst for job growth in the solar industry. In fact, jobs in the industry have increased drastically with about 209,000 workers today in the United States. [2]

Power in the US

States like California, Hawaii and Texas have attempted to increase their solar energy usage and replace conventional energy sources with solar power. With just 0.6% of land in the United States that use PV panels, the entire United States could be powered. [2] PV panels are often found on top of roof tops but can be inserted on dry land. In addition to the use of PV panels, Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) is another method of capturing solar energy. With these various solar methods, there still needs to be more technological advances and solutions to continue to increase efficiency and decrease costs. [3]

© Sydney Shaw. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] M. B. Mcelroy and X. Chen, "Wind and Solar Power in the United States: Status and Prospects," IEEE 7874615, CSEE J. Power Energy Sys. 3, 1 (2017).

[2] M. Mendelsohn, T. Lowder, and B. Canavan, "Utility-Scale Concentrating Solar Power and Photovoltaics Projects: A Technology and Market Overview," U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory, NREL/TP-6A20-51137, April 2012.

[3] R. Nikolewski, "Solar Power Faces Growing Pains in California," San Diego Tribune, 1 May 17.