Solar Energy Statistics: Economics and Future of Solar Power

Solar power is still the world’s most untapped resource. Most of the planet gets a reasonable number of hours of sunlight every year, and yet we still have an energy crisis.

We can’t ignore any longer the negative effects of our use and abuse of fossil fuels for centuries.

But there’s good news:

In the name of energy security and climate change mitigation, the sun (as a power source) is finally getting the attention and investment it deserves. 

With that in mind:

Let’s dig into the most relevant solar energy statistics and facts available to see how far along we are in our quest for sustainability.

Top Solar Power Statistics: Editor’s Choice

  • 36 years of weather data revealed that solar energy (along with wind) could supply up to 80% of America’s electricity needs.
  • In 2019, solar energy production surpassed consumption in the US for the first time since 1957.
  • The average carbon footprint associated with the production of solar PV panels is more or less 85 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent per gW.
  • Solar panels retire 25 to 30 years after the date of their installation.
  • The price of solar PV panels has declined by 99% since 1977.
  • 55% of the world’s new renewable energy is now solar.
  • By 2050, the majority of the world could run exclusively on renewables, particularly solar power.
  • The first long-range fully solar-powered car Lightyear One will hit production lines in 2021.
  • In all probability, the US will install 3 million PV panels in 2021 and 4 million units in 2023.
  • By 2050, China targets to be the first nation to collect space solar power and send it to Earth wirelessly.
solar energy statistics

Solar Energy Global Statistics

1. The sun sends 430 quintillion Joules of energy to Earth every hour.

To put things into perspective, all humans on the planet consume 410 quintillion Joules of energy every year. In other words, we receive considerably more clean energy from our nearest star in over 60 minutes than we can use in 365 days.

These basic solar energy facts should refute any doubt about the sun’s potential to power our rapidly growing industries.

2. At the age of 4.5 billion, the sun still has more or less 5 billion years left in its life span.

Strictly speaking, this giant ball of fire will go out someday. But its longevity is irrelevant to us, as our very existence as a species could be decided in the next 100 years.

These quick facts about solar energy tell us that the sun is ages away from being on its last legs.

It is sustainable enough to buy us time to figure out the most efficient methods and develop the most effective machines to optimize their power.

3. In 1941, Isaac Asimov popularized the idea of space-based solar power projects in his sci-fi short story “Reason.”

Asimov’s brainchild is certainly one of the cool facts about solar energy in pop culture. Although NASA abandoned the idea decades ago, the China Academy of Space Technology plans to adopt it and build a solar station in space by 2035.

4. Giving up less than 1% of agricultural land for solar farming could suffice to satiate the world’s appetite for electricity.

Researchers at Oregon State University discovered that croplands offer optimum conditions for solar energy generation using PV panels.

Called agrivoltaics, the idea of fusing agriculture and PV power production is one of the newest solar energy fun facts we should all be excited about.

5. According to the solar panels’ statistics from British multinational RS, 80 of the world’s 100 biggest cities need to dedicate less than 10% of their land area for solar energy generation.

For instance, Mumbai, the world’s most densely populated metropolis, has to allot 3.2% of its territory to lay down 19 kilometers of solar panels in order to satisfy the electricity consumption needs of its over 14.3 million inhabitants without emitting greenhouse gases.

6. Dubbed the sunniest place on the planet, Yuma, Arizona, enjoys over 4,000 hours of sunlight every year.

In theory, Yuma could meet the electricity requirement of Paris, the world’s most power-hungry city, twice over. These solar energy facts and pieces of information underscore the adequacy of the sun’s power.

7. 36 years of weather data revealed that solar energy (along with wind) could supply up to 80% of America’s electricity needs.

The above solar and wind energy facts suggest that the US could wean itself off fossil fuels more realistically in the future if it makes enough effort to improve its storage infrastructure and mechanism.

8. Retrofitting all roads in the continental US with solar panels could generate enough clean electricity to meet 78.2% of the country’s energy needs.

It is one of those random facts about solar energy that could give environment-conscious Americans hope, but it is far from feasible.

Cost, safety, durability, efficiency, and reliability are some unaddressed concerns that plague the widespread construction of solar roadways in the US.

9. Territories north of the Arctic circle could become solar-energy factories for more than 180 days straight due to the “midnight sun.”

This natural phenomenon happens because the Earth tilts 23° on its axis. Sure, the rest of the year would mean no sunlight at all.

But the ready availability of months worth of uninterrupted sunshine at the North Pole is one of the most underappreciated solar power and sustainable energy facts out there.

Read our article on direct sunlight and how necessary it is for solar panels to work right.

10. One panda solar power farm by China could prevent the burning of 1.06 million tons of coal and the emission of 2.74 million tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere over 25 years.

These compelling solar power statistics are proof that mainstream adoption of renewables is the best way to keep the global temperature from rising by 2 °C (aka the “climate danger threshold”) by 2036 or later.

11. Space solar power is available for the taking 24/7.

The current solar and wind energy statistics and liberal generation projections of renewables pale in comparison with the overall energy coming from the sun scattered in space.

One estimation explains that our planet catches just a small part of the star’s 2.3 billion solar power output.

These facts about the sun and solar energy would be the answer to many of the world’s most pressing industrial and environmental problems only if we could master the collection, electricity conversion, and distribution of space solar power.

solar energy statistics - solar panels

The Feasibility of Solar Power

12. The Wattway, the French government’s €5-million 2,800–PV panel road that stretched one kilometer going to a small Normandy town, was deemed an absolute disaster three years after installation.

Roadways are perhaps one of the solar energy source facts that should have never been. Seen as a road to nowhere right from the get-go, the Wattway was built in 2016 despite the better judgment of experts.

It never achieved its power generation target of 790 kWh per day throughout its history. The Wattway’s most productive year was its maiden one that translated to 409 kWh of green electricity per day, solar energy facts and statistics say.

Its performance declined as its condition deteriorated due to excessive vehicle weight, unstoppable weather damage, and disappointing design failure, managing to produce just 200 kWh per day last year.

13. In 2019, solar energy production surpassed consumption in the US for the first time since 1957.

The year 2019 is remarkable for the energy sector in the US as the country’s solar energy production exceeded its consumption.

This was the first time in 62 years and certainly one of the fun facts for solar energy American environmental advocates would brag about.

14. The world’s largest solar power tower is a $2.2-billion project in California with a capacity of only 377 megawatts.

The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System’s underwhelming power-generating prowess (considering its cost) is not the only reason it has been a letdown.

The other interesting facts about this beacon of solar energy are roasting hapless birds in the air and bursting into flames due to an operational error.

15. A $12-million Canadian concentrated solar power plant shut down after generating just one megawatt of electricity.

The government of Medical Hat called it quits after the facility’s lack of profitability became too much to bear.

Even though the optimistic solar energy goals and other positive facts were ultimately not fulfilled, the solar thermal power project’s five-year run was not bad.

16. India’s push for 40 GW solar rooftop capacity by 2022 is a flop in the making.

The fast-growing South Asian economy is running out of time to present better solar energy information and facts.

By the end of March 2019, there were just 4,375 megawatts of rooftop solar PV panel systems installed. It’s a far cry from its double-digit goal.

The Dark Side of Solar Power

17. The average carbon footprint associated with the production of solar PV panels is more or less 85 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent per gWh.

The facts about solar energy and its pros and cons change as the renewables’ adoption rate goes up. However, the truth remains that we still can’t manufacture PV panels without polluting the atmosphere with greenhouse gases.

18. The manufacture of solar panels also produces NF3 (nitrogen trifluoride) and SF6 (sulfur hexafluoride).

Both NF3 and SF6 are potent greenhouse gases; the former is more hazardous than CO2 by over 17,000 times.

Some good facts about solar energy say such emissions can be trapped in production facilities. However, any large-scale breaches could change this narrative.

19. 4:1 is the ratio between poly-silicon and SiCl4 (silicon tetrachloride).

The refinement process to create poly-silicon, an essential in the manufacture of solar panels, leads to the creation of large amounts of SiCl4, which can be a terrible hazard when it gets in contact with H2O.

The unintended production of this inorganic compound alone will not ruin the healthy balance between positive and negative facts about solar energy generation.

After all, SiCl4 can be made into more poly-silicon. Sadly, most manufacturing facilities lack the equipment needed to recycle this byproduct due to the high cost.

20. Thin-film solar cells use a rare material called copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS).

Compared to traditional units, one of the positive facts about solar energy generated by thin-film panels is less emission.

However, their production has resulted in high metal depletion of CIGS, which will worsen with poor end-of-life recovery.

21. Salvageable metals comprise less than 11% of the average PV panel.

Recycling stats suggest that low recyclability is one of the notable negative facts about solar energy generation. Such a small number will not make solar panel recycling lucrative enough to become its own industry, let alone thrive.

22. Apart from solar energy pollution facts, intermittency is another criticism harming the reputation of the sun as a power source.

So far, solar is not a realistic source of baseload power for massive economies such as the US and China.

That is one of the main reasons why only small countries like Costa Rica have been able to run exclusively on renewable energy for a long period.

23. Solar panels retire 25 to 30 years after the date of their installation.

These solar panel stats parallel the longevity of asphalt shingles. Such figures do not mean that these electricity-producing units become useless after three decades, though.

It is just that the solar power output of contemporary PV panels can significantly drop after that period.

24. The average solar panel degradation rate is 0.8%.

After year 25, the typical solar panel will operate at just 82.5%. In comparison, a premium unit can produce about 87.5% of the amount of electricity it used to generate when it was first installed.

These solar energy stats are expected to improve in the years ahead with the advent of next-gen tech, but they hardly make contemporary PV panels more marketable.

solar energy statistics - solar energy panels

The State of Solar Power

25. The cost of solar panels has dropped by 99% since 1977.

Time has a way of dramatically changing solar energy facts and blurring this renewable’s pros and cons. Once considered a drawback, the price has been instrumental in making many solar projects more economically viable.

26. 55% of the world’s new renewable energy is now solar.

Most of these solar power installations are found in Asian countries led by China, Japan, South Korea, India, and Vietnam.

There were also significant increases in solar energy capacity seen in other locations, including the US, Germany, Australia, Ukraine, and Spain. 

27. In 2020, solar energy contributed 43% to the total new electric capacity.

This was the second year in a row that solar energy’s capacity contribution to the grid was the highest, reaching 43%. Meanwhile, the runner-up wind energy contributed 38% as shown by the solar energy vs. wind energy facts.

In 2010, solar energy’s share of the US total electric generation was only 0.1%. Today, it has gone up to over 3%.

28. Asia was the driver of about 70% of the uptick in the world’s solar power capacity in 2018.

China, India, Japan, and South Korea deserve the credit for most of the improvement in global solar energy that year.

29. In 2019, the demand for solar panels was perceived to reach 125.5 gigawatts.

An increase of 16%, year on year means that a greater appetite for renewables was among the noteworthy facts about solar energy usage forecast in the previous year.

30. Last year, the energy payback time of PV systems in Southern Europe was down to 1.5 years or less.

In other words, the PV solar panels installed in this region could generate enough clean energy to negate the power needed to manufacture them and offset many other incidental bad facts about solar energy production in just 18 months at most.

31. 80% of the price of a rooftop solar panel system in the US could be recouped at resale.

There was a time when PV panels hurting curb appeal was one of the unspoken facts on solar energy in the real estate industry.

Now, these rooftop electricity-producing units help sell listed properties 20% more quickly, on average.

32. In 2019, Elon Musk announced that Tesla solarglass roof version 3 was ready for the big league.

One of the most interesting facts about solar energy in 2019 came from the visionary when he announced his company would mass-produce these game-changing roofs and manufacture 1,000 per week by December last year.

While the unofficial number of Tesla’s PV roofs in the wild was less than 100, the figure could explode and shake up the roofing industry in the near future, as the company targets an installation time of just eight hours.

33. The Maldives became home to the largest “floating solar system” in 2019.

The construction of this structure alone redefines some interesting facts about solar energy generation.

But what makes it more special is the patented design that allows it to withstand the rigors of corrosive saltwater, turbulent waves, and destructive storms.

34. By 2019, the US had produced a grand total of 17,468,342 mWh of solar energy.

The country has established many solar energy history facts, as it’s been in the game since 1983.

35. In 2019, net metering was embraced in at least 43 US states, along with the District of Columbia.

This is one of those facts about solar energy in America that involves a gray area.

While most of the country incentivizes households that go solar, some state legislators reduce the reward for generating excessive clean power.

Moreover, not all utilities in Idaho and Texas have adopted net metering since doing, as it’s not yet mandatory.

36. By 2021, the total solar PV installations in the US per year could reach 15.8 GW.

In 2019, the country’s PV power installation capacity was estimated to jump by 14%, sustaining the upward trajectory of certain solar energy statistics of the United States.

It’s also expected that the total installations per year could reach 15.8 GW in 2021.

37. The value of the US energy storage market is expected to hit $2.5 billion as it reaches 1.7 GW by 2020.

Compared to the valuation in 2015 (the year when energy storage truly began making inroads), the number translates to 243% growth.

This suggests that solar energy usage in the US is becoming more efficient. More and more homeowners, as well as grid managers and utilities, are able to handle the flow of electricity from renewables without causing an imbalance between the demand and supply of power. It can even save you money, but be sure to do solar panels right otherwise you’ll be paying more than you’re supposed to.

38. Over 2 million houses in the US have their own rooftop solar panel systems.

Based on the solar panel statistics, the number of houses with solar panels in the US has surpassed the two million mark in just three years.

It can be considered an achievement since reaching one million installations took 40 years for the country to accomplish.

Moreover, it is expected that by the end of 2021, there will be more than three million solar installations completed.

39. Hawaii has the highest percentage of solar-powered homes in the US, accounting for 6.282%.

In terms of the cities with the most solar-powered homes in the US, solar power stats show Hawaii tops the list.

Out of its 20,199 total housing units, 1,269 have solar power installations. This accounts for a 6.282% contribution to the city’s solar power generation capacity.

40. Experts counted more than 2.5 million rooftop solar panel installations in Australia.

So, how many people use solar energy in the Land Down Under? According to the latest from the Clean Energy Council, more than 2.5 million households across Australia have solar installations.

In 2019, rooftop solar installations reached 287,504, which is the highest since 2012.

41. Two years ago, a Polish developer made history by integrating perovskite solar cells into the facade of its commercial space to take a huge step closer toward carbon neutrality.

Declaring this milestone as one of the most interesting facts on solar energy recently does not do it justice.

In fact, we’d go as far as to say that it could signal a tectonic shift in building design and construction philosophies in hopes of developing zero-energy structures.

Speaking of green buildings, the Pixel Building in Melbourne is considered the most sustainable structure in the world. It produces all its water and power on-site, making it Australia’s primary carbon-neutral service building.

42. China contributed 48.2 GW of new solar capacity in 2020.

The country’s PV production was greater than India’s nearly five-fold last year. Thanks to China’s consistently solid green electricity production, the world’s solar energy growth projections are bright.

43. In 2019, China recorded the highest solar capacity among all countries, with 204 GW.

China tops the list of countries producing the highest solar capacity, recording a cumulative solar PV of 204 GW in 2019. Aside from China, other major markets for solar PV installations are the United States, Germany, and Japan.

44. In 2017, the world’s first panda power plant came online.

The Datong panda-shaped solar farm could generate about 3.2 billion kWh of green electricity over 25 years, which is good enough to supply power to 10,000 households yearly.

The facility’s inauguration marked the initial implementation of China’s “Panda 100 Program.”

Through it, the country plans to build 100 solar power stations shaped like the iconic Chinese bear in countries part of the $900 billion Belt and Road Initiative also known as the new Silk Road.

Apart from elevating its solar energy stats, China could also earn brownie points in diplomacy and geopolitics with the Panda 100 Program.

45. China’s 166,000-panel floating solar farm in Huainan is the largest of its kind.

Arranged on the surface of a lake formed atop an abandoned coal mine, this massive facility produces nearly enough green electricity to meet the energy needs of a large town.

Although the floating farm’s production is just a fraction of China’s total solar energy statistics in 2019, it is another piece of evidence of the country’s attempt to push the envelope.

46. Two of the major solar arrays on the water in the world are in Japan.

The first is the Yamakura solar power farm, which floats on its namesake Yamakura Dam and has a capacity of 13.7 MW. The second is the 7.5 MW Umenoki solar power plant, which was constructed on an irrigation pond in Higashimatsuyama.

These fun facts about solar energy are a testament to Japanese ingenuity.

This was a creative and resourceful response to the country’s lack of terrestrial space to accommodate massive solar farms to generate clean electricity.

Also, to make up for what it could no longer produce since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

47. Japan has converted at least three of its forgotten golf courses into green electricity-producing solar fields since 2015.

By global standards, the East Asian country’s solar energy facts and stats are to be envied.

However, the Land of the Rising Sun is burdened to multiply its production of renewables in order to see its energy self-sufficiency rate bottom out sooner rather than later.

This way, it could finally recover from its ongoing power crisis.

48. SolaRoad, a Dutch solar bike path, produced 3,000 kWh to beat its annual power generation goal.

Just half a year after its inauguration, the 70-meter bike path with thin-film solar PV panels turned sunshine into 9,800 kWh, which was good enough to power three households in the Netherlands for 365 days.

The project may have produced valuable pieces of solar energy information and historical facts, keeping the idea of solar roads alive.

The Economics of Solar Power

49. In June 2016, the UAE became the first country to bring down unsubsidized solar energy price below 30¢ per kWh.

One of the many amazing facts on solar energy associated with the UAE, this feat was achieved by the Middle-Eastern nation during the 800 MW third phase of Dubai’s Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (MBR) Solar Park when the price was set at 2.99¢ per kWh.

50. In July 2019, Portugal had rewritten the top solar energy economics facts and earned the distinction of offering the cheapest PV power in the world.

The Southern European country had snatched the title from a fellow Portuguese-speaking country, Brazil, after auctioning 1,150 megawatts of solar energy.

One of the contracts had been awarded to Direcção-Geral de Energia e Geologia, which agreed to offer 150MW for €0.01476 per kWh ($0.01654).

The Portuguese authorities should not rest on their laurels, though.

Over the past few years, the solar energy world statistics have been changing quickly as more and more countries achieve advancements in PV production.

51. Based on the independent power producer model, the UAE had become the source of the lowest-priced solar energy at 1.69¢ in October 2019.

The Dubai Electricity and Water Authority, a government-owned utility, had received the bid for the 900 MW fifth phase of the MBR Solar Park. The phase should be operational in stages as of Q2 2021. 

Although this price was not good enough to beat Portugal’s, it nevertheless reinforces UAE’s position as a global leader in cheap solar PV production after tallying previous record-setting solar energy industry facts since 2015.

52. India offered the most affordable solar power in 2018.

The South Asian country’s statistics for solar energy considerably improved that year due to cheap Chinese panel imports, low-cost labor, and abundant land.

53. The cost of building large-scale solar structures in India dropped by 27% in 2018.

Compared to Canada’s statistics about solar energy farm costs in the same year, India’s were thrice lower.

54. A 2019 study revealed solar power is now cheaper than grid electricity in all Chinese cities.

China has leapfrogged developed countries and achieved grid parity decades earlier than expected. Other papers concluded that the US and Germany could replicate such an achievement by 2020.

It is certainly one of the key solar energy statistics that demonstrates which nation is winning the race for PV power production.

The Future of Solar Power

55. By 2050, the majority of the world could run exclusively on renewables, particularly solar power.

Solar and wind power technologies could supply up to 94.7% of the planet’s energy needs by then. In other words, most countries on Earth could end their dependence on fossil fuels in 30 years.

If these projections become actual solar energy facts and info, the target of the Paris Climate Change Agreement would be met, and 4.6 million people would not die due to air pollution every year.

56. The supply of global solar energy would have an additional 600 GW over the next 5 years.

Such a growth forecast is faster than the expansion of all capacities of renewables worldwide during the same period. Indeed, it is among the rosiest and most important facts about solar energy published so far.

57. By 2024, China’s total solar power capacity will reach 370 GW.

Based on this figure, the Asian powerhouse will lead the US, the first country in the rearview mirror, by a margin of over 100%.

Experiencing meteoric solar industry growth since 2001, China is riding on its momentum to maintain its position as the world’s number one solar energy producer and installer of PV panels in the foreseeable future.

58. In 2021, the US is projected to have 15.8 GW of new PV panel installations.

The current largest economy in the world can’t rival China’s solar power capacity. But this projection solidifies the notion that America is a solar superpower in its own right.

59. In all probability, the US will install 3 million PV panels in 2021 and 4 million units in 2023.

The North American nation is no longer just relying on the top five contributors to its solar energy production statistics since 2010: California, Arizona, New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. Along with Florida, Texas is the emerging solar energy market in the States, expected to drive up the percentage of solar power in the US energy mix in the coming years.

60. Production of the German solar-powered car Sion commences in the second half of 2020 in Sweden.

If things go as planned, the electric vehicle’s manufacturer Sono Motors will be able to assemble 43,000 units per year.

One of the car’s other promising solar panel energy generation facts is its potential to convert enough electricity to boost its 255 kilometers (nearly 160 miles) of range by 34 kilometers (more than 20 miles) per day while on the road.

61. The first long-range fully solar-powered car Lightyear One will hit production lines in 2021.

Apart from its capability to power itself with solar energy, other interesting facts about it include its ability to have more or less 800 kilometers (or about 500 miles) of range on a single charge.

Also, it’s fast charging and guarantees over 400 kilometers (nearly 250 miles) of range under unfavorable environmental conditions.

62. By 2050, China targets to be the first nation to collect space solar power and send it to Earth wirelessly.

John Mankins, the physicist who explored the idea for NASA in the 1990s to no avail, estimates that a solar farm in orbit could generate 2,000 GW of power steadily.

Such an output dwarfs the best stats on solar energy generation of today’s largest comparative terrestrial facilities, with outputs ranging around measly 1.8 GW.

63. Emerging solar-power tech can cut spaceship weight by 50% and reduce the space occupied by energy-storage components by 75%.

According to these space exploration statistics, NASA’s Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP) system could take solar energy efficiency facts to new heights.

This innovation will be a part of the lightweight, low-fuel solar-powered rocket ship the agency intends to launch within the decade.

SEP-equipped ships will decrease propellant usage tenfold and accelerate the deliveries to space stations in the future.

This technology would not only improve statistics on solar energy but also pave the way for speedy and affordable space commutes within our solar system.

64. Futuristic clothes could charge electronics using mini solar cells.

Wearable sun-charged fashion items as general facts about solar energy might sound unfathomable now, but they could become the norm before too long.

Researchers at Nottingham Trent University have developed flea-sized solar cells, woven them into textiles, and proven to charge a smartphone with them.

Key Takeaways

Curiously, the provenance of the energy in fossil fuels is the sun. In a manner of speaking, we have been harnessing solar power all along. 

As humankind develops more sophisticated machines and methods to make clean electricity using the generous yellow dwarf star in Earth’s backyard, the rising solar energy statistics of the world signify a radiant future for civilization and hope for posterity.

Frequently Asked Questions

What percent of the world’s energy comes from solar power?

Only a little over 2% of the world’s electricity came from solar power in 2019.

What is the capacity of solar energy?

In 2019, the global grid-connected solar capacity hit 580.1 GW, including 3.4 GW of off-grid PV. Moreover, there were 2,563.8 GW renewables capacity installed in total at the end of the year.

How much does the US use solar energy?

The US generated 91 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of solar energy, accounting for only 2.3% of the 4,009 billion kWh total electricity generated in 2020.

Which country is leading in solar energy?

China has some of the biggest PV power stations on the planet. Solar energy statistics show the country has a gargantuan 860 MW facility on the Tibetan Plateau with four million panels as well as the current largest solar plant in the Tengger Desert, boasting a capacity of more than 1,500 MW.

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