The solar industry comprises utilities, distributed-energy-resources (DER) companies, technology firms, and merchant power developers. Solar power in the U.S. is generated both from utility-scale solar-power plants and locally distributed generation, mostly rooftop photovoltaics. Photovoltaic (PV) is a method of generating electricity by converting solar energy into direct current (DC) by using PV cells made from thin wafers of silicon, a widely available resource. Nearly 260,000 Americans work at more than 9,000 solar companies.
Solar is the world’s fastest-growing energy industry, attracting over $160 billion in investment during 2017 alone. While Asia currently dominates the production of solar panels, American companies still have the edge in innovation. A new substance called perovskite is getting attention for its ability to be printed in inexpensive rolls and achieve much greater efficiencies.
Factors affecting the industry include federal and state regulations; grid capacity; import tariffs; prices of competing fuel sources (mostly natural gas); and advances in battery capacity. Groups such as Clean Edge and Co-op America have predicted that solar could supply 10% of America’s power by 2025, with photovoltaic systems providing more than 8% of the nation’s electricity.