Over the past 20 years, demand for solar energy in the U.S. has grown by an average rate of 30% per year. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, solar energy is the fastest growing energy technology in the U.S. The market grew 67% from 2009 to 2010, to become a $6 billion industry.
This growth can be attributed to a combination of the following factors:
- lower production costs as technology progresses and economies of scale are reached
- more interest in alternative energy sources as prices of conventional energy rise
- greater interest in environmental sustainability
- government incentives for investment in solar technology
Currently the largest markets for PV installations are Germany, Japan and Spain, with the U.S. coming in fourth. The leading countries have stronger government support for developing solar technology. But the current growth rates, plus the expanded financing options, government incentives, and growing public environmental concern, all spur optimistic forecasts for the U.S. solar market.
There has been an industry push to commercialize technology other than solar panels, such as versatile thin-film PV applications (like solar shingles) and building-integrated PV. Also, the use of concentrating solar power, to generate electricity that is fed into grids, has expanded.
Research is being conducted into more efficient storage of solar thermal and solar electric energy, as well as into lower-cost materials to replace silicon. Solar roadways – paving road surfaces with solar panels that can be driven upon – have also received research grants from the U.S. Department of Transport and are currently being tested in Idaho.
Investments into solar research & development, like the U.S. Department of Energy’s Sunshot Initiative, add to the projection that solar energy will be cost-competitive before 2020.