This U.S. industry comprises establishments primarily engaged in operating solar electric power generation facilities. These facilities use energy from the sun to produce electric energy. The electric energy produced in these establishments is provided to electric power transmission systems or to electric power distribution systems.
Humans have been harnessing solar energy for thousands of years—to grow crops, stay warm, and dry foods. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, “more energy from the sun falls on the earth in one hour than is used by everyone in the world in one year.” Today, we use the sun’s rays in many ways—to heat homes and businesses, to warm water, or power devices.
Solar, or photovoltaic (PV), cells are made from silicon or other materials that transform sunlight directly into electricity. Distributed solar systems generate electricity locally for homes and businesses, either through rooftop panels or community projects that power entire neighborhoods. Solar farms can generate power for thousands of homes, using mirrors to concentrate sunlight across acres of solar cells. Floating solar farms—or “floatovoltaics”—can be an effective use of wastewater facilities and bodies of water that aren’t ecologically sensitive.
Solar supplies are little more than 1 percent of U.S. electricity generation. But nearly a third of all new generating capacity came from solar in 2017, second only to natural gas.
Solar energy systems don’t produce air pollutants or greenhouse gases, and as long as they are responsibly sited, most solar panels have few environmental impacts beyond the manufacturing process.
Documentaries, videos and podcasts
EERE Career Resources
How Does Solar Work?
NREL Energy Basics: Solar
August 31, 2020
Solar - Energy Kids: U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA)