The evolution of solar power in the US

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History of Solar in the US

It is thought the US began testing solar powered motors in 1904, which was one of the first solar power demonstrations. This was followed by Frank Shuman constructing a plant built purely for showcasing, which utilized solar power to pump water and produce steam. The plant was located in Philadelphia and had a capacity of pumping 3000 gallons of water an hour.

In 1973, Karl Böer constructed a solar friendly house called Solar One, the first home that used the sun’s energy to power various aspects of a household.  Solar Energy Generating Systems began operations of its first project in 1984, making it the “first major solar thermal plant in the world”.


The U.S. Energy Department is currently putting aside huge investment for solar power, with First Solar now manufacturing panels at sometimes lower costs than China’s biggest producer, Trina Solar Ltd.

The US has invested an impressive $25 million in plans to research and develop improved integrate power to the grid. According to the Energy Department, approximately 12 projects could be invested into and will allow the Energy Department to assist companies to demonstrate their new grid ideas successfully. This in turn will provide the US solar market with more opportunity and the ability to innovate completely new ideas that no other countries have touched upon. This is seen to be a huge investment for the American economy.

If the solar market is going to further progress, then First Solar is going to be a major factor in its success. First Solar has invested $775 million in technology and is now providing panels for as little as 40 cents a watt. This is roughly 15% less than Trina Sola Ltd. This means the US is making huge waves in the industry from a global perspective, considering China was confirmed the world’s largest producer of PV this year. China plans to invest in the installation of 150 GW of solar power by 2020, showing neither the Chinese or American solar markets plan to slow down anytime soon.  

First Solar has been investing heavily over the last 5 years and has increased in efficiency by just under 50%, whilst minimizing the company’s manufacturing costs. The company will also be releasing two new products in 2017 and 2019, which will include ideas inspired by flat-screen televisions: To use larger equipment to make larger units and in turn reduce costs.

Solar PV installation in the US is increasing and doing so rapidly, with figures sitting at 30,000 installations in 2006 and a prediction of 3,800,000 installed homes by 2020. With the new SunShot Initiative (Orange Button Programme), the US can now offer the community competitive solar costs and have solar businesses and professionals share market knowledge, allowing them to venture into growing markets and access industry information. This initiative will not only improve costs, but also companies will feel encouraged to offer better performance and service to the community. In April this year, San Francisco implemented mandatory solar friendly roofing on all new builds, in an effort to work towards the city’s huge solar plans and were the first major US city to make this decision.

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