As the world transitions to clean, renewable energy, we recognize that solar power is one of the cleanest and most abundant resources for this change. The solar energy facts below give us some insight into the growth in the industry.
The sun strikes the earth with enough solar energy to satisfy our global needs. And as researchers and engineers improve methods to generate electricity from the sun, we’ll be fully able to harness solar energy successfully. Read on for predictions about the future of solar energy, as well as what solar energy is doing for the global population.
#1- In a growing number of regions, including parts of China, the European Union (EU), India, and the United States, it has become cheaper to build new solar PV plants than to operate existing coal-fired power plants1
While we’ve known about the potential for solar PV panels to absorb solar energy and produce power for a while, however, access to it was limited to a few. Often accordingly to who could afford the high costs of installing solar panels.
Today, using solar is considerably cheaper in several regions of the world. The main driver of this is innovation. Once researchers figured out the technology, manufacturers (especially in China) could come in and fulfill the production aspect.
It’s excellent news that energy from solar is quickly becoming cheaper than coal-fired power plants. As our consumption and reliance on fossil-fueled energy sources drop, global demand will follow. As such, this could eventually mean few to no fossil fuel power plants. Which is the ideal target if we are going to combat climate change as a global issue.
#2- In 2020, renewable electricity generation already increased by almost 3%, mainly because of new wind and solar PV projects completed over the past year2
#3- The expansion of solar and other renewable sources is expected to help renewable electricity generation to rise by nearly 5% in 20202
#4- Overall, global new investment in renewable power and fuels reached some USD 301.7 billion, and wind and solar power accounted for nearly all of this investment1
The renewables industry is seeing significant growth in investments. These investments either come from governments trying to increase their local solar energy production or private investors looking to profit from the promising industry.
As global energy needs rise, it’s promising to see the funding of eco-friendly solutions to meet this demand. However, it’s important to note that solar energy investment is still concentrated in Europe, China, and North America. Other regions, such as Africa, do not yet offer all the features that private investors look for. Especially in terms of potential returns from the market.
#5- In 2018, modern renewables contributed an estimated 10.1% of heating and cooling demand in buildings, up from 8% in 2010.71. Most of this increase was due to growth in renewable electricity for heat and in solar thermal1
#6- Solar thermal and geothermal heat together contributed some 2.0% of thermal energy demand in buildings in 20181
#7- Solar energy only provided 10% of the installed renewable energy capacity (27.3%) of global electricity generation at the end of 20191
#8- By the end of 2019, 22 countries had enough capacity in operation to meet at least 3% of their electricity demand with solar PV, and 12 countries had enough for at least 5%1
#9- The off-grid solar sector has increased over the past decade and is now a $1.75 billion annual market serving 420 million users, with further growth predicted3
#10- The off-grid solar sector will serve 388 million people with the most basic level of electricity access by 20303
Perhaps, the most promising aspect of solar energy is its diversity in capacity. A single home or community would have, in the past, struggled to set up its private energy grid. Today, anyone can do it. Solar energy produces clean and renewable energy that allows people to cut off from their public grids such that they no longer have to rely on their local energy providers.
For some regions, this may be a case of personal preference or choosing to stop their dependence on fossil-fueled energy. But in some other areas installing solar panels may be their first chance at accessing a full, constant energy supply. And this improvement is especially apparent in developing nations.
The most basic level of electricity access is what many need to improve their quality of life. And predictions concerning solar energy show that 388 million people may become solar energy users with this access by 2030.
#11- Not including China, the global market for solar PV grew about 44% in 20191
#12- Demand for solar PV is spreading and expanding as it becomes the most competitive option for electricity generation in a growing number of locations – for residential and commercial applications and increasingly for utility-scale solar power plant projects1
#13- The share of renewable energy in the power sector would increase from 25% in 2017 to 85% by 2050, mostly through growth in solar and wind power generation4
#14- Four-fifths of solar PV projects to be commissioned in 2020 will produce electricity cheaper than any fossil-fuel alternative5
#15- In 2018, around 171 million people had access to electricity through solar PV lighting, solar home systems, and renewable-based mini-grids1
#16- Countries adopting integrated planning – an approach to electrification that includes solar home systems – have achieved faster results in electricity access. In recent years, Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Kenya, Myanmar, Nepal, Rwanda, and Tanzania experienced the most rapid gains in electrification1
Integrated planning is an approach that allows consumers to collectively own, operate, and manage a small solar energy system. This approach is best for consumers in low voltage networks, for example, homeowners without high consumption needs.
With smaller-scale projects and costs, communities with poorly-managed national electricity providers can achieve electrification for themselves. And we already see positive results from adopting integrated solar power planning.
This and many other facts about solar-powered communities show us that solar energy is needed on a small scale. Just as much as the largest solar energy projects. Of course, home solar energy users save on their electric bills at home as well, by an increasing amount, as the cost of average solar panel systems comes down.
#17- As of mid-2019, some 420 million people had gained access to essential residential electricity services through the use of renewable technologies, mainly solar PV lighting systems (330 million people) and solar home systems (90 million people)1
In many parts of the world, people still struggle to access electricity in their homes. But recent facts about solar show us that solar power effectively bridges this gap. Renewables, mainly solar, provide homes with lighting and other electricity needs. What's solar energy to you? To some, solar cell technology is changing their communities and bringing much-needed development.
#18- By the end of 2019, solar heat systems harvesting solar energy for use in industrial processes were supplying more than 700 megawatts-thermal worldwide1
For energy, solar options are considerably easier to adapt in small-scale settings such as homes, schools, and communities. But for a long time, successfully adapting solar energy to industrial needs continues to prove a challenge. This was due to the simple problem of collecting and storing enough energy to meet the enormous demands of factories and other industrial buildings.
However, there seems to be a significant improvement. Industry now uses solar heat systems to generate heat for drying processes and to heat swimming pools, laundries, dairies, and breweries. And even to support cooling systems in the food industry.
As the reported solar energy facts above show, industry experts see positive growth in the use of solar power in industrial processes.
#19- By the end of 2019, the mining industry had commissioned or announced nearly 5 GW of renewable energy capacity across 88 sites in 26 countries, the bulk of which was solar PV1
The mining industry is a small but significant portion of global energy consumption. Since this multi-billion-dollar industry is responsible for providing natural resources to the world, its activities are significantly energy-intensive. As this solar fact shows, the mining industry is also working to shift its energy supply from fossil fuels to renewable solar power plants.
Some of the reasons for this shift to solar power are clear to industry stakeholders. Energy use accounts for up to a third of the costs of a mining operation.
Since solar-powered systems are becoming cheaper and in tune with solar technology development, switching to this alternate source can help mining companies cut their overhead costs. The solar energy generated by dedicated energy plants will offer financial incentives to mining companies once they start making this switch.
Of course, other factors are in play here. Such as the mining industry is one of the heaviest contributors of greenhouse gases due to its energy-intensive processes. By switching to solar power, this industry will see its impact on climate change fall dramatically.
While we’ve seen a rise in the adoption of renewable energy-powered private vehicles, the public transportation system still has some catching up to do. There’s ongoing research and test adaptations for this, as well as successful executions of solar energy use for public transportation (as the facts below show).
While we don’t have working models yet, researchers are optimistic that even solar commercial planes will eventually be a thing.
#20- As of October 2019, a bus charging station in Jinjiang’s Binjiang Business District (Fujian Province, China) was charging its electric buses using solar powerref
Bus drivers who operate within Jinjiang’s Binjiang Business District can now charge their electric buses using solar power. This project, which the province completed in 2019, is expected to save 50,000 to 100,000 kWh of electricity for bus charging each year. It also significantly reduces the province's public transport system’s dependence on fossil fuels. Compared to regular buses using diesel fuel, an electric bus traveling 200 km per day should reduce carbon emissions by 47 kg.
#21- In 2019, Melbourne (Australia) connected a 128 MW solar PV system to its grid network specifically to power the city’s tram system1
A Victorian solar power farm, which took less than a year to build, will soon power all of Melbourne’s tram system. The solar project is one of the most significant solar projects in the country; the facility sits on 500 hectares of land and costs $198 million.
The city’s tram system will now use solar power generated from 300,000 solar panels. This level of renewable power generation will completely offset the tram network—a positive eco-friendly step in improving their public transport system.
#22- 90–100% carbon emission reductions on earth will rely on the development of demand response and energy storage facilities to accommodate seasonal energy storage, such as with solar energy6
Solar cells are just one small part of our use of solar energy to tackle climate change. Much innovation still needs to happen in the storage and distribution technology to make solar a 100% reliable solution.
One of the many advantages of solar energy is that solar radiation is abundant; however, it is also seasonal. Therefore, solar panels cannot always generate power on demand creating the need to store solar energy when the sun is less intense. The only way to offset this is through proper storage and distribution systems that can even out the supply from solar and wind energy.
However, solar panel production is not without its own environmental cost. Read more in our article exploring the environmental impacts of solar energy.
#23- Timely infrastructure deployment and the redesign of sector regulations are essential conditions for the cost-effective integration of solar and wind generation on a large scale. These energy sources will become the backbone of power systems by 20504
Like any other sector controlled by a region’s government, they heavily regulate the power sector. Even within countries, provinces, and states, rules still differ from community to community.
For complete global adoption of solar power production, all regions of the world will have to redesign their policies for the energy sector—especially policies that target small-scale energy production, such as making it easy and cost-effective to install solar panels for the home.
#24- In North-East Asia, the two °C limit to global temperature rise is economically achievable due to the rapidly falling costs of renewable technology, particularly solar PV, but is constrained by politics7
#25- Solar PV and wind energy, supplying about 71% and 28% of the demand, respectively, in the Best Policy Scenario for 2050, can overcome coal dependency of the power sector8
#26- Renewable energy (RE) sources, particularly solar and wind, are the most promising sources of energy to substitute fossil fuels .
#27- Employment in the renewable energy sector in 2030 is expected to remain concentrated in the technologies used today, and solar is expected to create 8.5 million jobs by 2030, and 11.9 million jobs by 20504
The solar energy sector is a job creator we should fully welcome into the global economy. Like many other industries, this industry's needs cut across all job market sectors.
According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the solar energy industry currently employs over a quarter of a million people in the US.
As solar power becomes more widespread, employment opportunities will continue to grow. Job creation includes researchers, engineers, factory workers, installation experts, marketers, home maintenance crews, and so much more. The solar power industry will also create new job roles to satisfy specific industry needs. This employment prediction offers optimistic promises for the future of our global economy.
#28- Under the Transforming Energy Scenario, renewables will stimulate considerable job growth; up to 42 million jobs by 2050, and solar would account for more than half of these jobs5
#29- Under the Transforming Energy Scenario, in terms of technology, solar will account for half of all renewables jobs in North America and Asia, followed by Europe with 30%.
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.