Rapidly expand the use of solar energy as the primary source for electricity and heating.
Solar is key to phasing out fossil fuels and accelerating the electrification of everything. It can be our primary source of heating and electricity. There are two basic types of solar technology: solar thermal, which captures the sun’s heat for both electricity and heating; and photovoltaic (PV), which converts sunlight into electricity. Solar technology’s costs have fallen steeply in recent years while efficiency has risen. Solar employs millions of people and provides clean energy around the world, from steel mills, to solar farms, to households in big cities and remote villages. Accelerating’s solar share from its current 3 percent of global electricity production will require adoption at every level, including households, offices, schools, corporations, institutions, and governments.
Learn why solar can become the primary source of energy. In 2020, solar became the least expensive form of electricity in most of the world. There have been major advances in cell and panel efficiency. Average commercial solar panels today perform at 20 percent efficiency, up from 12 percent just a decade ago. Solar thermal is used in rooftop solar water heaters and massive power plants located in remote areas. Solar PV generates electricity worldwide through community, residential, commercial, and utility-scale projects, both on land and on water.
- Dramatic price drop. In 2006, solar PV cost $3.50 per kilowatt-hour. By 2030, it is expected to drop to as low as 2 cents per kilowatt-hour. The oil shock of 1973, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, generous solar energy subsidies in the 2000s, and rising global awareness of climate change drove down costs and accelerated installation.
- Job creation. Renewable energy jobs are expected to grow from 5 million jobs today to 22 million in 2050, with 85 percent of the gains taking place in the solar and wind industries. The growth will be global, from Vietnam and Malaysia, which are key PV exporters, to Africa and South Asia, where off-grid solar could create 1.3 million jobs. More jobs will be generated from the energy transition than lost, even in fossil fuel hubs. This report found that the solar industry is creating jobs seventeen times faster than the rest of the U.S. economy.
- Integration with other renewables. Since it is based on natural resources, power output from renewable sources can be variable and intermittent, which is a challenge for electrical grid operators who need to supply continuous power. Integrating solar with other renewables can help. Sinn Power of Germany developed a maritime floating platform that generates energy from waves, wind, and solar at the same time. In China, a hybrid power station combines wind turbines and solar panels (see Wind Nexus).
- Continuous energy supply. Solar power requires adequate battery storage to ensure uninterrupted electricity during nighttime hours or overcast days. While battery storage has faced similar challenges as solar technology, it is now moving toward the kind of exponential growth that solar PV saw in the last decade (see Energy Storage Nexus).
- Creating equity. Energy justice advocates see solar as essential to helping marginalized communities save money, take greater ownership of energy generation, and build resilience to power outages. Activists are addressing gaps in solar access that fall along racial and ethnic lines. For example, residents of the Highland Park neighborhood in Detroit founded Soulidarity to install solar street lights in place of the ones their utility company repossessed.
- Electrify everything. Solar is a key part of the movement to electrify everything with renewable energy, including power grids, transportation, institutions, companies, and households. This guide describes how to electrify everything in your home. Here is an article and a book by Saul Griffith, a visionary leader in the electrification movement (see Electrify Everything Nexus).
Join, start, or support a community solar project. Sometimes called solar gardens, a community solar project is a large, central solar power plant whose electricity is shared across properties. Participants can choose between shared ownership or a subscription to an offsite solar array and typically receive an electric bill credit generated by their share of the community solar system.
- Monte Alto solar garden in Spain is collectively owned, generating clean energy equivalent to the demand of four thousand homes.
- New Mexico’s community solar program is focused on building energy equity by serving renters and low-income residents.
- South Africa’s first community solar project partnered with a local community-owned internet service to deliver access for rural residents.
- See this guide and this guide for a course in starting or joining a community solar project.
- If you’re based in the United States, this tool and this tool allow you to search for community solar projects to join, based on your location.
Install Do-It-Yourself solar. If you live in a remote area or somewhere without professional installation options or are looking to power small spaces (such as sheds, vans, and tiny homes), DIY solar could be a good option.
- Determine whether a DIY project is right for your space with this pro-and-con guide.
- This learning hub website covers all basics of DIY solar.
- Follow the six-step process for installation in this guide.
- Here is an example of a commercial solar panel kit.
Advocate for solar where you live, work, and study. Here are a few examples and resources to get started:
- Educators and students are taking action to bring solar power to schools, from Seattle to Lagos to Los Angeles to Arkansas. Schools seek support from NGOs like SunnyMoney, which installs Light Libraries for students living off-grid.
- Renters can encourage their landlords to use Ivy Energy, a software platform that enables owners to generate income as onsite solar energy hosts while providing clean electricity to tenants. See Groups below.
- Employees can encourage their company to use solar power at the office by starting a petition through Coworker. This article makes the case for commercial solar by pointing out key benefits to business owners.
- Voters can join or donate to organizations that support pro-solar policies, such as Vote Solar, Solar Energy Industries Association, and the International Solar Energy Society.
- Switch to clean energy with your utility company. Contact the utility to find out if they offer this option. If they don’t, let them know you want them to add it. Find resources on navigating a utility that’s resistant to solar here.
- Misinformation around solar is on the rise through social media groups. Share the facts you’re learning using this social sharing toolkit.
Install solar PV panels at home. Solar panels can save (and make) money and increase home resale value. Your path to installing solar will differ based on your location. Research local manufacturers, installers, licensers, and incentives for your area. Here are some common first steps:
- Determine whether your home is a good candidate for solar. This guide walks you through the steps to assess whether solar PV panels will be right for your home. Many solar companies will do an assessment for free. Those based in the U.S. or Puerto Rico can enter their address here to make many of these calculations automatically.
- Evaluate your energy use and select the appropriate system. Use this step-by-step guide to determine the type of solar system best for you.
- Pick a reputable provider. See Key Players below for a list of some of the top solar companies worldwide and follow these ten tips.
- Save on installation. Explore local and federal government incentives and collective purchasing options, or join a solar co-op. This guide can help you vet installers to find the best ones in your area.
- Look into long-term financial incentives. Find out whether your local government offers feed-in tariffs—a policy that pays above-market rate for any excess energy your panels contribute to the central power grid.
- Don’t forget the small stuff. Not quite ready for rooftop panels? Start small with solar-powered outdoor lights, including garden lights, holiday lights, and motion-sensor security lights.
Install a solar water heater. There are three primary types of solar water heaters to consider. Two are active, absorbing the sun’s warmth via rooftop collectors and transferring its heat directly to your household water. The other is passive, using heat pumps to pull solar heat out of the air to increase your water temperature (see Heat Pumps Nexus).
Recycle old solar panels (and advocate for recycling programs). PV panels typically last for twenty-five to thirty years. They could create as much as 80 million tons of waste by 2050. Instead, we could recycle materials worth $2 billion from panels as they are retired. While panel recycling programs are not common, they are on the rise. Look for local recycling and reuse options. Background information on recycling solar is provided by the EPA. See Governance below to learn about the regulations needed to establish recycling worldwide.
- German researchers have made solar cells from recycled silicon.
- French startup ROSI Solar plans to open a new recycling plant in Grenoble before the end of 2022.
- We Recycle Solar in Arizona provides large-scale solar panel disposal and recycling for manufacturers, installers, and solar contractors.
Designers and Engineers
Develop new ways to use solar PV and thermal energy. Creativity and innovation are critical to expanding solar adoption. In addition to technological advances, building diverse teams, such as this residency with craftswomen from Mozambique and designers from the Netherlands, is essential to meet culturally specific needs. Here are examples:
- Solar-powered cars are entering the marketplace.
- Solar shingles can be applied directly to the roof of a home or building, replacing traditional roofing materials.
- Mesh-grids and other smart solar technologies link homes and businesses in underserved communities.
- A solar cell has been developed that can generate electricity at night, creating the opportunity for continuous solar energy.
- Solar-powered cold storage is available to farmers in Nigeria.
- A solar-powered sports stadium in Taiwan is the largest in the world.
- Solar bricks generate electricity in building facades. A test installation on a 7,000-square-foot wall is expected to produce 90,000 kilowatt-hours annually.
- Bifacial solar panels in this Greece solar park can generate one third more energy than conventional single-sided panels.
- Dust-repellent solar panels inspired by the lotus leaf’s self-cleaning properties can help improve the efficiency of desert solar farms.
- Still in its experimental phases, the first transparent solar cell could be used for windows that generate electricity with invisible solar technology.
- This window-mounted solar charger is the size of a textbook and can charge small devices like cell phones, smart watches, and bike lights.
- Solar pool heaters are one of the most cost-effective uses of solar energy in some climates.
- Solar paint, still in its early phases of development, can be applied to any paintable surface to generate electricity.
Donors and Investors
Fund solar projects in underserved communities. Renewable electricity is needed for the 840 million people worldwide who don’t have access. Many countries are being left behind in the global renewable energy push and more efforts are required to address this inequality. Here is a report from the Rockefeller Foundation on how to end energy poverty.
- Solar Sister invests in women’s clean energy businesses in off-grid communities in Africa. Over 6,800 Solar Sister entrepreneurs have reached three million people in Africa with clean energy.
- A village in Brazil is running 132 solar panels as part of a pilot project funded by Sustainable Amazon Foundation and Unicoba.
- The Inter-American Development Bank partnered with a local utility to finance their large-scale hybrid solar and thermal plant in Nicaragua.
- The Honnold Foundation installed a 15-kilowatt solar array for an all-girls school in Liberia, reducing energy costs by 90 percent.
- ZubaBox converts shipping containers into portable, solar-powered classrooms that have been used in remote areas and refugee camps.
- In South Sudan, UNICEF has installed solar-powered water systems that are providing people in remote communities with access to clean water.
Farmers, Ranchers, and Other Landowners
Build a solar PV farm on your property for extra income. Leasing land for use as a solar farm can offer a source of stable income from your land while helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
- Find tips for farmers, ranchers, and landowners to leverage solar leasing as a way to generate income.
- Learn key land requirements to start a solar farm, including parcel size, land condition, infrastructure proximity, local policy, and flooding potential.
- Review the legal aspects, including property and water rights, critical title problems, and statutory solar easement requirements.
Power your farm or ranch with solar energy. As costs of solar technology fall and efficiency rises, more agricultural enterprises are converting to renewable sources to power their day-to-day operations. The U.S. Energy Department’s Farmer’s Guide to Going Solar can help you get started.
Integrate agrivoltaic systems in your operations. Agrivoltaics is a farming method that integrates solar power generation and food production. Here are examples and resources to get started:
- In Kenya, agrivoltaic research collaboration has shown promising results. They’ve found cabbage, lettuce, and maize grow better under solar panels.
- Indigenous peoples in Arizona are reimagining tribal shade-growing techniques to cultivate vegetables beneath solar panels, ensuring water, energy and food for 1,500 tribe members.
- The world’s first agrivoltaic farm is located in the Domaine de Nidolères vineyard in Tressere, France, and stretches over 11 acres.
- This guide for farmers and ranchers offers an in-depth compilation of statistics, case studies, educational videos, and a policy design toolkit.
- AgriSolar Clearinghouse connects businesses, land managers, and researchers with reliable resources to support the growth of colocated solar and sustainable agriculture.
- In the Chesapeake Bay region, solar sites are being integrated with livestock grazing.
Install solar PV and thermal to foster energy independence. Indigenous groups are leveraging solar power to disengage from historically exploitative energy generation systems. These efforts are creating jobs for Indigenous youth, building resilience to climate-related outages and creating revenue.
- In the cloud forests of northern Puebla, Mexico, an Indigenous cooperative is training youth to install solar panels in their communities.
- Residents of the Iltjiltajarri Aboriginal community in central Australia have switched from trucking in diesel to powering their lights, freezers, and air conditioners with rooftop solar and batteries.
- 8th Fire Solar is an Anishinaabe-owned-and-operated company building solar thermal panels for homes and small businesses in North America.
- On the Hawaiian island of Moloka‘i, Ho‘ahu Energy Cooperative is working with the state utility to establish a community-based renewable energy project that serves 50 percent of the island’s energy demand with solar panels.
- Leaders of the Oglala Lakota Sioux, Northern Cheyenne, Ojibwe, and Standing Rock Sioux tribes launched the Indigenized Energy Initiative, a first-of-its-kind effort to empower tribes to achieve energy independence.
- See Key Players below for a list of Indigenous-led organizations.
City and State Officials
Integrate PV and thermal solar into operations and public spaces. Local governments around the world are switching to solar, saving money, and building community in the process. The U.S. Energy Department’s Local Government Guide for Solar Deployment can help you get started. Here is a toolkit for a perspective from the commercial solar sector.
- In India, the state of Gujarat has covered its canals with solar panels to capture energy and prevent water evaporation.
- California is following Gujarat's lead with four thousand miles of solar canals that will save more than 65 billion gallons of water annually.
- Solar noise barriers can be used along highways to reduce traffic noise while generating solar power. They were first introduced in Switzerland in 1989 and have since been installed around the world.
- The world’s largest floating solar power plant is located in the city of Huainan, China, in a flooded former coal-mining region.
- Cohoes, New York, solved for a lack of open land by introducing the first municipally owned floating solar system in the U.S. on the city’s reservoir.
- The Iranian city of Mashhad switched to solar energy to power its office buildings. Excess energy flows back into the main power grid.
- Seoul is putting solar panels on all public buildings and on one million homes.
- Learn the benefits, costs, and procedures for municipalities to integrate solar generation.
- Explore how local governments can support marginalized communities with the heaviest energy burdens, in this article and this report.
- Read more about how cities are implementing solar in this report, and learn more in Net Zero Cities Nexus.
Power operations with solar. Commercial PV solar—which refers to a range of projects, from small businesses to hospitals—can amplify the benefits of solar on a larger scale than residential projects.
- Retrofit for solar on-site at your workplace. Start with this guide to understand benefits, incentives, and financing.
- Four of Google's newest office buildings in California are covered in ninety thousand plates capturing solar energy. These “dragonscales” will meet 40 percent of the buildings’ electricity needs.
- Tesla’s Gigafactory will be the world’s largest building, powered by the world’s largest rooftop solar array.
- IKEA, which now sells solar panels for households, allows buyers to track their own production in an app and to sell back surplus electricity.
Provide solar energy resources as a benefit for employees. Particularly in the age of remote work, solar discounts have become an employee benefit. Companies can also offer solar education lunch-and-learns.
Pass legislation that accelerates solar expansion. This toolkit provides an overview of policies for governments to consider. Here is an overview of federal and state policies affecting solar energy development in the U.S. The United Nations has a Plan of Action to accelerate clean energy around the world. While effective policies will vary across contexts, here are a few key recommendations:
- Start with a national energy transition plan, which was the foundation for the successful switch to renewables in the German municipality Wildpoldsried.
- Work directly with Indigenous people for consultation, consent, and compensation when considering new solar projects on ancestral lands or land to which Indigenous people have been displaced. Indigenous leaders can reference this toolkit on free, prior, and informed consent.
- Use Renewable Portfolio Standards to require utilities to sell a specified percentage or amount of renewable electricity.
- Implement net metering or feed-in tariffs—policy tools that pay small-scale energy producers (such as homeowners with solar panels) at or above market price for the power they deliver to the grid.
- Subsidize rooftop solar through state and federal budgets to avoid utilities offsetting lost revenue by raising electricity rates (which can cause problems for lower-income residents, as it has in California).
- Use rebates, leasing, and other financial incentives to reduce upfront costs, lowering the barrier of entry for home and small-business solar.
- Mandate solar water heaters for residential, commercial, and public buildings. Israel’s residential mandates have led to 85 percent of households getting their hot water from a dud shemesh, or “sun boiler.”
- Pass legislation to enable community choice aggregation (CCA), which allows a town or municipality to aggregate its electricity demand and buy its power directly from an alternative supplier.
- Require all new commercial buildings to have green rooftops or solar panels, as France has done.
- Foster international cooperation to share solar energy across borders, as the proposed Sun Cable project seeks to do between Australia and Asia.
- Mandate efficiency goals for publicly funded construction projects (rather than requiring a percentage of expenditure for solar, which has proved ineffective in Oregon).
- Use this policy road map to help ensure affordable clean energy by closing the solar equity gap.
Fund PV and thermal solar research, implementation, and workforce development. Invest in expanding the solar workforce through retraining programs for fossil fuel workers and military veterans. Center diversity as part of workforce expansion. Governments can finance advancement of up-and-coming solar technologies. Solar Villages Initiatives Act gives microenterprise assistance for renewable energy projects in developing countries.
Regulate solar building and recycling. Solar hardware manufacturing and recycling require better regulation to protect the environment and human rights. Implement protections for workers and consider having producers finance the takeback and recycling of solar panels, as the E.U. has done.
Solar Utility and Technology Companies
Canadian Solar (Canada)
First Solar (global)
GCL-Poly Energy (China)
Xinyi Solar (China)
SMA Solar Technology AG (Germany)
NextEra Energy (U.S., Canada)
Hanergy Thin Film Power Group (China)
International Solar Alliance (global)
Solar Energy International (global)
International Solar Energy Society (Germany)
The Solar Foundation (U.S.)
Smart Electric Power Alliance (global)
Global Solar Council (global)
Indigenous Solar Initiatives
Native Renewables (U.S.)
First Nations Clean Energy Network (Australia)
Original Power (Australia)
Indigenous Clean Energy (Canada)
Sacred Earth Solar (Canada)
Amazon Frontlines (South America)
8th Fire Solar (U.S.)
How Do Solar Panels Work? (TEDEd)
Revolutionary Power: An Activist’s Guide to the Energy Transition (Shalanda M. Baker)
“Explaining the Plummeting Cost of Solar Power” (MIT News)
“What Is Community Solar” (EnergySage)
“Blocking Rooftop Solar” (Frontier Group)
“How Heat from the Sun Could Help Clean Up Steel and Cement” (MIT Technology Review)
“Renewables 101: Integrating Renewable Energy Resources into the Grid” (Resources for the Future)
“Solar and Wind Can Meet World Energy Demand 100 Times Over” (Carbon Tracker)
Watts Up (GRNE Solar)
Sheep + Solar: A Love Story (How to Save a Planet)
Solar Maverick (Benoy Thanjan)
Shine On (SolarPower Europe)
Solar Thermal: All Night Long (Bloomberg)
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