A natural solution to climate change
Carbon neutrality by 2050 has become a goal for many countries to combat climate change as scientists continue to stress the dangers of global warming. In order to reach net zero carbon dioxide emissions, the world needs to make drastic changes. More than 110 countries have pledged carbon neutrality by 2050, but progress has been slow if not obsolete. In fact, in September of 2021, the United Nations reported that emissions are on pace to increase by 16% by 2030 when compared to 2010 levels (1). A key focus of the carbon-neutral initiative is to switch from fossil fuel use to renewable energy sources. The five main renewable energy sources utilized in the U.S. are biomass, hydropower, wind, geothermal, and solar. Together they account for 12.4% of the U.S. energy consumption (2). Of these, only offshore wind and solar are independently cost-competitive relative to fossil fuels. Since solar energy is easier to implement, it is a viable and scalable solution for the future.
Solar energy or photovoltaics (PV) is the conversion of light into electricity through the use of solar panels. Since its inception in 1954, the PV market has grown to the third most popular form of renewable energy. Solar panels offer the advantage of being installable on almost any type of building. Solar PV is also becoming the lowest-cost option for new electricity generation, and most widespread with 514,000 new residential PV systems installed in the U.S. in 2021 (3). Solar panel systems have dropped in price by an annual average of more than 60% over the past decade — from upwards of $50,000 for a 6-kilowatt-hour (KWh) system in 2011 down to $16,000 in 2022 (4). While this may seem expensive, the return on investment is phenomenal; after a 6-10 year period, owners will start saving over $2,200 a year in electricity. As the market continues to grow, this investment will only improve, making solar panels a sound and environmentally friendly investment.
Currently, a single solar panel generates around 2 kilowatts per day, meaning the U.S. produces an estimated 97.2 gigawatts of solar energy, enough to power 18 million households. Compared to 2008’s 0.34 gigawatts production of solar energy, this is an exponential increase in available solar energy. However, by 2050,1600 gigawatts will be needed to satisfy a net-zero carbon planet (5). To reach this goal, technology will need to evolve so that the solar energy market can reach its maximum potential.
Even though solar energy is one of the fast-growing markets, there are some limitations that restrict its expansion in the U.S. and elsewhere. One key constraint is the reliance on China for solar panel imports. Currently, China dominates the solar industry, accounting for 80% of worldwide production (6). Recent Covid-19 lockdowns disrupted this supply chain and led to a 37% decrease in solar panel manufacturing from the pre-covid projected numbers in 2020. Consequently, the U.S. government is actively seeking to diversify production sources and reduce this concentration risk (7).
The U.S., as well as other countries, is making meaningful progress in furthering the use of solar panels, as a cost-effective, clean energy source. Overcoming key challenges and furthering technological breakthroughs will allow the solar industry to gain a share in U.S. energy consumption and play an important role in the transition to clean energy.
- Full NDC Synthesis Report: Some Progress, but Still a Big Concern (2022). UNFCCC. Retrieved 10 October 2022, from https://unfccc.int/news/full-ndc-synthesis-report-some-progress-but-still-a-big-concern
- Sources of energy – U.S. Energy Information Administration . (2022). Retrieved 10 October 2022, from
- Tobias, M. (2022). SEIA Publishes the 2021 Solar Market Insight: What You Need to Know. Nearby Engineers. Retrieved 9 October 2022, from https://www.ny-engineers.com/seia-publsishes-the-2021-solar-market-insight
- Are Solar Panels Worth It? (2022 Guide). (2022). Market Watch. Retrieved 10 October 2022, from https://www.marketwatch.com/picks/guides/home-improvement/are-solar-panels-worth-it
- Solar Futures Study. (2022). Department of Energy. Retrieved 10 October 2022, from
- Halper, E. (2022). How Joe Manchin’s change of heart could revive the U.S. solar industry. Washington Post. Retrieved 10 October 2022, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2022/07/30/climate-solar-manchin-china/
- COVID-19 Impacts on the U.S. Solar Industry. (2022). SEIA. Retrieved 10 October 2022, from https://www.seia.org/research-resources/covid-19-impacts-us-solar-industry
- Sources of energy – U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). (2022). Retrieved 10 October 2022, from
- Are Solar Panels Worth It? (2022 Guide). (2022). Retrieved 10 October 2022, from https://www.marketwatch.com/picks/guides/home-improvement/are-solar-panels-worth-it
- Solar Futures Study. (2022). Retrieved 10 October 2022, from
- COVID-19 Impacts on the U.S. Solar Industry | SEIA. (2022). Retrieved 10 October 2022, from https://www.seia.org/research-resources/covid-19-impacts-us-solar-industry