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Interesting Solar Power Statistics

The sun is the world's largest power plant. It provides more energy to the earth in 1 hour than that produced by all nations in a year. However, solar power statistics show that we only use the sun for 0.01 % of our electrical needs. Despite the advances in solar power technology, it still costs 5 times as much to produce electricity from solar panels than it does from using dirty coal, gas or nuclear sources. But as energy prices continue to increase, the future looks bright for solar power.

Market Share

The amount of electricity produced from solar power (photovoltaic and thermal generation) makes up the smallest portion of electricity generation in the US.

  US1 Canada2
Coal 48.5% 24.9%
Natural Gas 21.6% 3.8%
Nuclear 19.4% 12.4%
Hydro 6.0% 58.7%
Petroleum 1.6% -
Wood 0.94% -
Wind 0.83% -
Biomass 0.40% -
Geothermal 0.35% -
Other Gases 0.32% -
Solar 0.01% -

Note: The '-' symbol in the above table means "practically nil" even though there may be some generation.

Because of the high manufacturing costs of PV cells and the large land area needed to collect sunlight, solar power has the highest cost per Watt of all generation methods. The fact that power is only generated when the sun is shining means this expensive equipment sits dormant during the night, cloudy weather or when debris and dust collect on the surface.

More Solar Power Statistics

  • PV solar panels are highly reliable and have a lifespan between 30-40 years.
  • Advanced silicon PV solar panels generate the same amount of electricity over their lifetime (50 years) as nuclear fuel rods, without the hazardous waste.
  • Depending on the amount of sunlight a location receives throughout the year, a solar power plant requires 10% of the land area compared to a hydro reservoir.
  • One kW of power generated from solar panels prevents: 150lbs of coal from being mined, 300 lbs of CO2 from being emitted and 105 gallons of water from being consumed.
  • Wind is a form of solar power that's created by the uneven heating of the earth's surface.

To make the massive switch from coal, natural gas and nuclear power, the following technological hurdles must be met first:

  • The efficiency of the solar panels will have to be increased from 22-23% to over 40%. More wavelengths can be used, cheaper semiconductors need to be discovered and more efficient manufacturing techniques employed.

  • Huge areas of desert lands will have to be covered with PV solar panels and thermal power-tower plants. Environmental impacts will have to be addressed.

  • Alternate energy storage capabilities will have to be developed as batteries are inefficient and expensive on a large scale.

  • New direct current (DC) transmission lines will have to be installed. They are smaller than the current high-voltage AC lines but new ones will have to be installed across the continent.

Human creativity and innovation can help improve these solar power statistics. We are still a few decades away from breaking our addiction to fossil fuels but the promise of the using the power plant in the sky is immensely great.


1 www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/epa/epates.html
2 www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/57-001-x/57-001-x2003001-eng.pdf