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Solar Power Comes of Age

How Harnessing the Sun Got Cheap and Practical

Sunrise: a solar farm in China’s Gansu Province, September 2013 Carlos Barria / Courtesy Reuters

Solar power has been declared a winner before, only to flounder. It’s easy to remain skeptical today, given that solar power accounts for less than one percent of the global energy supply. But it is also expanding faster than any other power source, with an average growth rate of 50 percent a year for the past six years. Annual installations of photovoltaic panels increased from a capacity of less than 0.3 gigawatts in 2000 to 45 gigawatts in 2014—enough to power more than 7.4 million American homes. This time really is different: solar power is ready to compete on its own terms.

The momentum behind solar power is a result of innovations in regulation, industry, technology, and financing. In a number of markets, it no longer needs public subsidies to compete on price with conventional power sources, such as coal, natural gas, and nuclear power. The International Energy Agency, which has historically taken a

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