A Guide to Solar Power in the US: Could the Country Be Fossil Fuel Independent?

The State of US Solar Power

As has been reported on many other blogs and website, solar power is enjoying a massive upswing in adoption around the world and here in the United States. Thanks to government and other adoption incentives, matured financing options, and steadily decreasing costs coupled with steadily increasing generation and storage capacity, installing solar panels on your home is more popular than ever and only getting more popular.

Big utilities are increasingly getting into the game across the United States, and many big consumers of power – amusement parks, server farms, government installations – are putting in their own utility-scale solar power plants to cut back or eliminate their dependence on conventionally generated power.

Solar power has become a major component of the fight against fossil fuel pollution and ongoing climate change. But, can the US truly become fossil fuel independent?

The Rising Number of Solar Households in the US

Installation of rooftop solar is on the rise in the United States. Solar is also contributing to the power needs of many households and businesses in the US that do not benefit from owning their own solar power generating systems. Utility scale projects and solar power contributed to the grid from households that have their solar power systems hooked up to it contribute to offsetting non-adopting household consumption of conventionally generated electricity.

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the US installed 10.6 gigawatts of solar energy capacity in 2018, putting the total capacity of solar power generation nationwide at 64.2GW. That’s a 19% increase in overall capacity in just one year. This trend is expected to continue and increase, doubling US solar capacity in the next five years. Our 2019 capacity is enough to power over twelve million homes. By 2024 that number should exceed twenty-four million.

Where the Energy We Consume Comes From

According to the US Energy Information Administration, there are five major sectors of energy consumption in the US. The electric power sector is the largest consumer of energy, taking in 38.1 percent of the total energy consumption in the US (97.7 quadrillion Btus) and converting into the electrical power that makes up a portion of the energy used by the four remaining sectors – transportation (28.8%), industry (22.4%), residential (6.2%), and commerce (4.5%).

The type of energy used by each sector varies considerably. Whereas the transportation sector derives the majority of energy from petroleum (92%), the electric power sector only gets about 1% of its power from petroleum. The US generates almost 90% of its energy domestically, with natural gas, petroleum, and coal accounting for almost eighty percent of that energy production. Renewable energy, including solar accounts for just over 12% of US energy production.

How Solar Is Changing US Energy Consumption

Solar is growing, and with advances in storage technology for solar-generated electricity and forward-thinking legislation driving policies like California’s Solar Mandate and paving the way for larger and larger scale adoption of solar power, the effect that solar and other renewables are having on the overall energy picture in the US is only getting larger.

The question isn’t whether or not the US can be independent of fossil fuel generated power, but when we can realistically get to 100% renewable power.

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