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Solar energy is radiant light and heat from the sun harnessed using a range of ever-evolving technologies such as solar heating, solar photovoltaic, solar thermal electricity, solar architecture and artificial photosynthesis. Solar technologies are broadly characterized as either passive solar or active solar depending on the way they capture, convert and distribute solar energy. Active solar techniques include the use of photovoltaic panels and solar thermal collectors to harness the energy. Passive solar techniques include orienting a building to the Sun, selecting materials with favorable thermal mass or light dispersing properties, and designing spaces that naturally circulate air. In 2011, the International Energy Agency said that "the development of affordable, inexhaustible and clean solar energy technologies will have huge longer-term benefits. It will increase countries’ energy security through reliance on an indigenous, inexhaustible and mostly import-independent resource, enhance sustainability, reduce pollution, lower the costs of mitigating climate change, and keep fossil fuel prices lower than otherwise. These advantages are global. Hence the additional costs of the incentives for early deployment should be considered learning investments; they must be wisely spent and need to be widely shared".
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Scope and Importance:
Solar energy is unique among carbon-neutral energy sources for its enormous potential to satisfy the expected doubling of U.S. energy requirements over the next 50 years. The ANSER Center was established in July of 2007 and joins established strengths at Northwestern University (NU) and Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) with those of senior personnel at Yale University (Yale), the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), and the University of Chicago (UC) in molecular and nanostructured assemblies, materials, catalysts, and phenomena integral to solar energy conversion and storage. Together, these institutions offer a critical mass of world-class researchers, with unique capabilities and facilities in synthesis, characterization, and theory. The nature and complexity of these problems requires an integrated systems approach that comes only from focused, team-oriented interdisciplinary research with close communication and coordination among team members. A strong multi-disciplinary team approach to solving scientific problems has traditionally been part of NU and Argonne scientific culture. Together, we will advance the broad frontier of solar energy science to produce environmentally benign renewable energy.
The U.S. Solar industry achieved another record year in 2014, growing by 34% over 2013 to install nearly 7,000 megawatts (MW) of solar electric capacity. Within the photovoltaic (PV) sector, over 6,200 MW of capacity was installed, led by the residential and utility segments, which grew by 51% and 38%, respectively. The concentrating solar power segment enjoyed its largest year ever with 767 MW of capacity installed. Together, the solar industry installed 32% of all new electricity generating capacity in the U.S. - second only to natural gas. This growth is expected to continue, with an additional 20,000 MW of solar capacity projected over the next two years. There are now over 20,000 MW of cumulative solar electric capacity operating in the U.S., enough to power more than 4 million average American homes. In 2014, with over 195,000 installations in 2014, nearly 645,000 U.S. homes and businesses have now gone solar and a new solar project was installed every 2.5 minutes. Growth in 2014 was led by the utility-scale sector, which grew 38% over 2013 to reach nearly 4 gigawatts (GW), and the residential sector, which crossed the 1 GW barrier for the first time while growing 51% over 2013. Since the implementation of the ITC in 2006, the cost to install solar has dropped by more than 73%. While residential costs have dropped by 45% since 2010, utility-scale costs have dropped more significantly, with recent contracts at prices below $0.05/kWh. As the solar industry grows, so does its benefit to the economy. According to The Solar Foundation, there are now nearly 174,000 solar workers in the U.S., more than a 20% increase over employment totals in 2013. These workers are employed at 6,100 businesses in every state. The increasing value of projects has injected life into the U.S. economy as well. In 2013, solar installations were valued at $13.7 billion, compared to $11.5 billion in 2012 and $8.6 billion in 2011.
Relevant Society and Associations:
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This page was last updated on March 1, 2021