The year 2022 was remarkable, as it saw the culmination of years of efforts by businesses and governments working together to overcome the many challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The number of solar installations rose by 73% in the last decade, reaching a market value of nearly $16 billion in 2021. The US energy landscape is evolving, and so is our understanding of how much solar energy is used in the country. With fewer people working and more living a remotely-centric lifestyle, our energy infrastructure is changing too.
How much solar energy is used in the US? It’s a question that’s being asked more frequently as people are trying to understand how much energy they’re using in general, and how much electricity they’re using in particular. People are realizing that relying solely on traditional sources of energy isn’t sustainable, and they want to find more sustainable alternatives.
The answer to this question is complicated, but it’s also interesting. It depends on how you define solar energy. Is it the total annual energy produced by the sun – regardless of where in the world it shines? Or, is it the amount of electricity generated from solar sources, such as solar panels, by solar power plants, regardless of where the panels are located?
Since the early 21st century, the price of solar energy has dropped dramatically. The cost of installing solar panels has declined by 66% and solar leasing costs have plunged by 86%. This makes solar energy more accessible than ever before.
Many people are realizing that solar energy is the key to a sustainable future. For example, Facebook is a pioneer in the field, having launched its Community Renewable Energy program in 2010, which invests in innovative renewable energy projects that provide electricity to local communities. According to the company, these types of projects make a substantial difference. They not only help reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels, but they also lower pollution and combat climate change. Furthermore, as demand for electricity rises due to rapid population growth and increased industrialization, sustainable energy sources like solar energy can play a crucial role in providing power to everyone. This role is especially significant in developing countries where access to electricity is limited.
Solar energy is abundant and accessible, so it makes sense to question how much is used in the country. If the question is, how much solar energy does the US use? The answer is a little less than 5% of the total energy use, which is equal to about 12.5 million tons of oil. This is based on the most recent authoritative national statistics. However, if the question is, how much solar energy does the US consume? The answer is a lot more than 12.5 million tons of oil, as solar energy represents only a small slice of overall electricity generation. In fact, the country uses about a third of all the oil it imports.
Let’s take a closer look at how the US uses solar energy.
How Much Solar Energy is Used In The US?
The Energy Information Administration (EIA) of the US Department of Energy (DOE) collects and publishes information on energy usage in the country. According to the EIA’s most recent figures, the total annual electricity consumption of the country is about 287 billion kilowatt hours (kWh).
Based on the most recent figures, the total solar energy consumed by the country is about 6.9 million kWh. However, this figure represents only a small portion of total electricity generation. In other words, solar energy represents only about 0.07% of total electricity generation. This is why it can be hard to accurately determine how much solar energy is used in the country.
The main reason for this is the difference in how the two figures are defined. While solar energy is the energy produced by the sun, electricity is the energy transmitted and usable. Electricity is generated by power plants, which are essentially large industrial-scale facilities that convert fuel into electricity. This process of generating electricity inevitably contaminates the fuel, which is generally a fossil fuel. The energy produced by the sun, however, is considered clean energy, as it doesn’t involve any contaminations, such as the ones produced by power plants.
The EIA collects data on the amount of electricity generated by various sources and on the amount of electricity used by industries and residential customers. Based on this data, the energy administration compiles two estimates of how much solar energy is consumed in the country. One estimate is based on the number of solar photovolatic (PV) modules and the efficiency of the PV system. The other estimate is based on the number of solar power plants and the capacity of the systems. As these estimates don’t measure the energy used directly, they are generally considered to be lower bounds on the actual usage. In other words, these figures understate the true amount of solar energy used in the country.
Solar Energy Consumption By Industry
Based on the EIA’s most recent figures, the country’s industries use about 37% of the total electricity generated, which is about 107 billion kWh. Amongst the industries, the commercial sector uses the most, about 26.6 billion kWh, followed by the residential sector, which uses about 6.9 billion kWh. That’s about 33% and 12% of total electricity generation, respectively. These figures don’t include the amount of energy used by industries in manufacturing and in transporting goods, which is significant. It’s also important to point out that the EIA’s figures are based on the most recent available data, which means that the country’s electricity use changes frequently and rapidly. This is due to the ever-evolving energy landscape, which is characterized by continual change.
Large-scale solar power plants, such as those built by corporate giants and local governments, can generate enough energy to significantly power an entire city. However, this energy is mostly consumed by industries and residences, which are coupled with a lack of available land-use rights for large-scale solar farms, especially in developed countries.
How Much Solar Energy is Used By Residences
Based on the EIA’s most recent figures, the country’s residences use about 12.5 million kWh of solar energy, which is about 3.7% of total electricity generation. This is interesting, as it means that the country’s homes are able to generate more solar energy than they consume. To put this in perspective, the EIA counts air-conditioning (AC) units and water heaters as part of residential energy consumption, which are not considered to be solar energy sources. This is because they don’t generate electricity and they don’t have any direct relationship with the sun. They are simply used to condition the home or office space and provide hot water, respectively. Therefore, these residences consume a lot more energy than they produce, which in this case, is only about 12.5 million kWh. This is mainly because of poor energy efficiency and minimal awareness amongst homeowners about energy-saving measures. With minimal changes, these residences could become energy-sippers.
Overall Solar Energy Consumption By The Country
Based on the EIA’s most recent figures, the country as a whole uses about 6.9 million kWh of solar energy, which is about 0.2% of total electricity generation. In other words, the country as a whole uses less solar energy than it generates. This is mainly due to the fact that a small percent of the country’s population lives in large urban areas and uses a lot of energy. However, this figure does include the energy used by industries in transporting and manufacturing goods, as mentioned earlier. Without including this energy, the country as a whole would use a lot more solar energy than it generates. This is mainly because a lot of energy is also wasted in large urban areas during the day, when residents are connected to the power grid and using electricity for normal activities, such as cooking and drinking. In rural areas, where access to the electricity grid is limited, this wasted energy is lost anyways and contributes to climate change.
Role of The Electric Utility Industry
One of the main reasons behind the significant underreporting of solar energy consumption in the country is the lack of available data. To accurately measure energy consumption, the electric utility industry collects information from consumers and businesses, which it then uses to estimate electricity usage. However, as the industry is still in the nascent stages of collecting and using this data, it isn’t able to provide any reliable estimates of solar energy consumption. This is why it’s important to look at other sources of data, such as government records and research publications, to get an accurate picture of solar energy use in the country.
For example, if we look at the statistics published by the EIA and then examine the history of solar energy adoption in the country, we’ll see a sharp rise in electricity usage, which coincides with the increase in solar energy consumption.