According to an Energy.gov article, 173,000 terawatts (TW) of free solar energy is striking the Earth all day, every day. Need a little real-world context to wrap your head around that number? That’s more than 10,000 times the world's total energy use. If you’re considering commercial photovoltaic (PV) panels, you should be seeing dollar signs right about now—especially since just one terawatt of solar energy has the capacity to power approximately 10 billion 100-watt light bulbs.
Here’s another thing you might not have realized: People have been talking about solar energy since the 1950s. Back then, The New York Times waxed poetic about a future powered by the “limitless energy of the sun,” or what we now know as solar photovoltaic technology. (To learn more about solar PV, click here to see how commercial photovoltaic systems work.)
Unfortunately, it seems only the space industry was truly listening. As early adopters, they used solar technology for power aboard spacecrafts and satellites that are still in use today.
Now—more than a half-century later—demand for solar in the United States is at an all-time high. In fact, the amount of solar power installed in the U.S. has increased more than 23 times over the past eight years.
As solar energy grows more economical and we continue to find innovative ways to store it (like the work being done at the Ivanpah Solar Power Facility in the Mojave Desert), demand will continue to rise for home installations and commercial PV system design.
At last, it appears that we’re finally beginning to harness the power of those 173,000 terawatts.