Photo: Marilyn Humphries

10 Things About Solar Energy


Solar energy is the most abundant energy resource on earth – 173,000 terawatts of solar energy strikes the Earth continuously. That's more than 10,000 times the world's total energy use.


All the energy stored in Earth's reserves of coal, oil, and natural gas is matched by the energy from just 20 days of sunshine. 


There are several ways to harness solar energy: photovoltaics (PV or solar electric), solar heating & cooling, concentrating solar power (typically built at utility-scale), and passive solar.


Solar energy is now cheaper and more accessible than ever. The cost of solar panels has fallen approximately 100 times over since 1977, and solar panels today are about half the price they were in 2008. 


Solar energy is a flexible energy technology: solar power plants can be built as distributed generation (located at or near the point of use) or as a central-station, utility-scale solar power plant (similar to traditional power plants). Some utility-scale solar plants can store the energy they produce for use after the sun sets. 


Solar energy creates jobs. The Solar Foundation’s annual solar jobs census found that in 2014, one out of every 78 jobs created in the U.S. were related to solar. Overall, the solar industry added jobs at a rate nearly 20 times faster than the national average.  


Demand for solar energy is at an all-time high. Total U.S. installed capacity has tripled in the past three years and now stands at 22,700 MW, enough to power 4.6 million average American homes. Of that, 985 MW are installed in Massachusetts where solar meets just over 2% of electricity demand. 


Solar energy can generate electricity 24 hours a day and provide back-up power, when paired with batteries and other technologies.


Solar energy emits no pollution, produces no greenhouse gases, and uses no finite fossil fuel resources. Also, the energy expended in the solar manufacturing process can be offset in as little as one year after a solar system starts generating energy. This is why expanding solar is essential to meeting our climate emission reduction goals. 


The first silicon solar cell, the precursor of all solar-powered devices, was built by Bell Laboratories in 1954. On page one of its April 26, 1954 issue, The New York Times proclaimed the milestone, “the beginning of a new era, leading eventually to the realization of one of mankind’s most cherished dreams — the harnessing of the almost limitless energy of the sun for the uses of civilization.”