Three Decades of Solar Energy Growth in the US

An alumnus of City College of New York and New York Medical College, Peter “Pete” Killcommons, MD, is the CEO of Medweb, a medical software and device company based in San Francisco. Outside of running the company’s radiology and telemedicine operations, Dr. Peter Killcommons has a keen interest in solar power adoption in America.

According to estimates from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), solar energy consumption in the country grew from 0.06 trillion British thermal units (Btu) in 1984 to 1,044 trillion Btu in 2019. In addition, solar energy generation grew from 5 million kWh in 1984 to 107,057 million kWh in 2019. Of this, 64 percent was utility-scale PV power plants and 33 percent small scale PV systems producing less than 1 MW of power.

The amount of solar energy the earth receives every day is many multiples higher than the amount of energy humans consume each day. However, solar radiation is not available at all times of the day. In addition, clouds, pollution, and dust can lower the amount of solar radiation that reaches the surface of the earth. Generally, arid areas in lower latitudes (in the Northern Hemisphere) tend to receive the highest solar energy per day. In the US, these are southwestern states like California, Arizona, and New Mexico. Other states that receive plenty of sunshine are Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and Texas.

Not surprisingly, some of these states lead the country in solar power generation. California had the highest utility scale solar electricity generation in 2019, producing 28.62 billion kWh, followed by North Carolina with 7.292 billion kWh and Arizona with 5.109 billion kWh. With regard to small-scale solar PV electricity generation, California was also the highest producer with 15.181 billion kWh, followed by Arizona at 2.574 billion kWh and New Jersey with 2.202 billion kWh. In addition to a region’s solar power potential, state incentives for solar energy usage also encourage adoption.