Solar panels on the roofs of houses have become a familiar sight in recent years, but utility-scale solar – installations of 10 megawatts and greater – are really booming these days. Throughout the United States, more than 10.5 gigawatts of utility-scale solar were added to the electric grid in 2016 – enough to power more than 2 million homes – and at least 8 gigawatts more are scheduled to come online this year.
The historic, relentless drought in California has caused a number of the state’s farmers to start planting photovoltaic panels instead of crops. Because of the drought, Federal water deliveries to farmers in the Central Valley and elsewhere have been dwindling. As a result of the water shortage, more than 500,000 acres will lie fallow this year.
The modern face of solar energy is hundreds of thousands of rooftops covered with arrays of solar panels. It is also amazing expanses of solar panels and mirrors covering acres of desert land. Solar power capacity is expanding rapidly and is expected to at least triple over the next 10 years.
The use of solar power is growing rapidly but with all the growth, solar power only provides 1% of the country’s electricity. On the other hand, in 2014, solar power accounted for almost a third of all the new US electric generating capacity. According to the International Energy Agency, solar power could be the world’s leading source of electricity by the year 2050.