Utility-scale solar energy development is accelerating across the United States, revitalizing local economies, creating thousands of well-paying jobs, and powering homes and businesses with affordable, abundant energy.
“Solar is now the new king of electricity markets,” says the International Energy Agency.
Solar energy is the most abundant energy resource on earth. According to the U.S. Department of Energy,
“The amount of sunlight that strikes the earth’s surface in an hour and a half is enough to handle the entire world’s energy consumption for a full year.
Solar technologies convert sunlight into electrical energy either through photovoltaic (PV) panels or through mirrors that concentrate solar radiation. This energy can be used to generate electricity or be stored in batteries or thermal storage.”
There is over 80 GW of solar energy capacity nationwide—enough to power 18 million homes with affordable, reliable power.
Technological innovations and demand for clean, affordable power has propelled solar energy forward to become the fastest-growing source of renewable energy in the world! Solar energy accounted for 59% of all clean power capacity in development as of Q1 2023, with almost 30,000 MW of new solar capacity currently under construction.
And, solar power is more affordable than ever! The cost of generating electricity with solar energy is 90% cheaper than it was just 10 years ago, falling over 13% between 2018 and 2019 alone. New technological advancements mean that solar is gaining efficiency faster than previously expected, making cost-projections for new solar projects way cheaper.
In fact, solar will be the cheapest electricity source across the United States as soon as 2030, according to new research published by Wood Mackenzie. This means communities, businesses and manufacturing facilities will enjoy millions of dollars in energy savings as the resource continues to expand.
With the growth of solar energy, communities enjoy a huge economic boost in the form of tax revenue, land-lease payments and new job opportunities.
ENHANCING ENERGY RELIABILITY AND AFFORDABILITY
Solar energy, like other advanced energy resources, provides a cushion for consumers against volatile energy prices by boosting the electric grid with an abundant source of low-cost, renewable power.
Consumers in states with large-scale renewable energy development have seen monumental savings. In Texas, renewable energy, which produces over 30% of the state’s power, lowered the cost of electricity to consumers by $11 billion in 2023, or $423 for every customer served by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.
REVITALIZING RURAL ECONOMIES
Clean energy projects are some of the highest tax contributors in the counties where they are developed. In 2022 alone, solar energy projects contributed $739 million in state and local taxes and land-lease payments.
This added tax revenue helps rural communities improve school facilities, transportation infrastructure and emergency services without added cost to local citizen.
A land-lease with a solar energy developer means a farmer or rancher will receive another steady stream of income that helps offset the ever-changing grain and cattle markets. This additional revenue, in turn, is used to make land and equipment payments, hire more hands, buy more seed and ultimately produce more exports.
Unlike thermal power generation, solar energy does not require any water to produce electricity. In 2021, wind, solar and energy storage facilities in the U.S. helped conserve 211 billion gallons of water, preserving this valuable resource for where it is needed most.
Preserving the Land
Solar energy also helps to preserve the land for future generations of farmers and landowners. Solar projects ensure land can recover, especially when paired with native grasses and natural pollinators to benefit an entire region. Responsible solar development could improve soil health, retain water, nurture native species, produce food, and provide even lower-cost energy to local communities.
Agrivoltaics, the method of combining agriculture and solar power on the same piece of land, is quickly gaining popularity. Research is increasingly showing that solar panels can enhance growing conditions, especially for specialty crops.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, “Agrivoltaics has the potential to help farmers adapt to climate change and diversify their income through land lease payments or other business structures. Research in the drylands of Arizona found that farming under solar panels can decrease evaporation of water from the soil and potentially reduce irrigation requirements. Agrivoltaics can also improve crop yield and crop resistance in extreme weather, such as droughts.”
Solar energy also makes a great partner for ranchers. Cattle are free to roam around solar panels, which provide shade to dairy cows during extreme heat events and provide farmers with an alternative means of income. In fact, using an agrivoltaics system in a pasture, which is the integration of solar photovoltaics and agriculture, could boost land efficiency by up to 75%.
Solar energy projects create a wide variety of well-paying job opportunities, from construction and manufacturing to data analysis and electrician services. Highly skilled workers are needed at every stage of project development and operation.
Job growth extends beyond the development phase as solar energy projects attract major global corporations who want to build around and purchase clean energy, and local businesses are stimulated by a new pool of consumers.
According to the National Solar Jobs Census, the U.S. solar industry employs 263,883 solar workers in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico as of 2022. This represents an increase of 8,846 jobs, or 3.5% growth since 2021.