46 Solar Energy Facts That Could Change Civilization as We Know It (With Quotes)

Georgette Kilgore headshot, wearing 8 Billion Trees shirt with forest in the background.Written by Georgette Kilgore

Solar Panels | April 1, 2024

Woman looking at various items powered by solar energy and wonders about solar energy facts and facts about solar energy fun facts including facts about solar power and other solar facts.

As more and more people look for ways to reduce costs, many people wonder about solar energy facts, like, how effective is solar power, and will it have the ability to replace fossil fuel electricity?

Before the first solar panel, the first solar cell, or the discovery of the photovoltaic effect, ancient civilizations harnessed solar energy both directly, to ignite flammable materials, and indirectly, for agriculture and architecture.

Solar energy as a renewable source of electricity is a recent discovery when compared to the entirety of human history.

But, like other modern inventions, it has the capacity to change how the world operates.

Below are a list of verifiable facts about solar energy, ranging from beneficial to dangerous, from practical to pointless, and from historical to hysterical.

The Sun 101: Solar Facts

The sun is a powerful, free source of energy for the planet. It’s been providing it for millions of years.

Graphics of facts about solar energy with twelve icon-like cartoon images.

Now that humankind has developed practical ways to turn that energy into electricity through solar power, it’s fun to check out some of the coolest facts about our closest star.

Fact #1. It takes less than 10 minutes for direct sunlight to travel from the sun to Earth.

The sun is roughly 93 million miles away from Earth.1 Since sunlight travels at the speed of light (299,792,456.2 meters per second with a 1.1-meter margin of error,2 which is roughly 186,000 miles per second),3 direct sunlight will reach earth in approximately 8 minutes and 4 seconds (roughly the amount of time it takes to read this list of solar facts).

Fact #2. The sun is a natural and colossal nuclear fusion factory.

In its core, the sun converts hydrogen atoms into helium atoms at a rate of 4-to-1. Converting 4 grams of hydrogen into helium releases 260,000,000,000 joules of energy.4

Fact #3. Solar energy itself is free.

No group or individual claims ownership of the sun, and sunlight does not need to be mined. The costs associated with solar energy are for the solar energy systems, not the energy source itself.

The abundance of free solar energy is among one of the more understated solar energy facts. However, there are actual groups trying to shoot particles into the atmosphere in order to block sunlight to Earth. Some which are funded by powerful people.

“The use of solar energy has not been opened up because the oil industry does not own the sun.” – Ralph Nader5

Historical Solar Energy Facts

Did you know that solar power has been around for a very, very long time?

Check out these historical solar energy facts!

Fact #4. 7th century B.C. is when was solar energy first used.

Humans in 7th century B.C. used sunlight and glass to light fires. The Romans and the Greeks used mirrors and sunlight to light torches roughly 400 years later.

And Chinese records confirmed using mirrors to light fires in 20 A.D.6

Fact #5. Alexandre Edmond Becquerel is credited for discovering the photovoltaic effect.

In 1839, Alexandre Becquerel coated platinum electrodes with silver chloride or silver bromide and illuminated the electrodes. This combination generated voltage and electrical current.7

Among these solar energy facts, this fact can be considered the origin of the modern-day solar panel.

Fact #6. Bell Laboratories is credited for creating the first silicon solar cell.

Bell Laboratories engineers Calvin Southern Fuller, Daryl Chapin, and Gerald Pearson invented the functional solar cell in 1954, which Bell Laboratories revealed in a public demonstration.8

Because of this, it’s fair to say that it’s Calvin, Daryl, Gerald, and Bell Laboratories are who invented solar panels.

An old design of solar panel using polycrystalline cells, with thicker panels than modern designs.

(Image: GregReese28)

Fact #7. The Vanguard 1 is the first man-made satellite powered by solar cells.

Launched on March 17, 1958, the Vanguard 1 was the second satellite that the United States launched. Six square solar cells powered it until the solar power transmitter failed in 1964.9

Fact #8. The first solar-powered airplane was built in 1981.

Paul MacCready built a solar-powered airplane – called “Solar Challenger” – and flew it across the English Channel.6

Fact #9. In 2016, a solar-powered airplane completed a global trip for the first time.

Bertrand Piccard flew Solar Impulse 2 – a zero-emissions solar-powered airplane – across the world. Solar Impulse 2 is currently the biggest and most powerful solar-powered airplane.6

“I came up with the idea of a solar airplane flying around the world with no fuel – that would be a beautiful message in terms of technology, the energy of the future and the environment.” – Bertrand Piccard5

Fact #10. The price of solar cells has dropped by over 99% since 1977.

A decades-long combination of research, development, increased amount of manufacturing, and increased efficiency of manufacturing are among the factors responsible for solar energy’s record low costs.10

Solar Energy Facts About Solar Power Usage

Who is using solar energy the most? What companies are investing in expanding and improving solar energy output and reducing solar energy carbon footprint amounts in manufacturing and disposal?

These solar power usage facts are fascinating.

Fact #11. Five countries generate 70% of the world’s solar electricity.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, five countries – China, the United States, Japan, India, and Germany – are where is solar energy found in the world.

The five countries generate 32%, 16%, 9%, 7%, and 6% of the world’s solar energy, respectively.11

An expansive desert in Dunhuang, China with solar power plant, producing one of the highest solar energies in the world the world.

(Image: 李大毛 没有猫29)

Fact #12. As of March 2023, the largest concentrated solar power plant is in Morocco.

The Noor Complex – also called the Ouarzazate Solar Power Station — is in the Sahara Desert, operating within Morocco’s borders. It consists of four solar power plants which generate an annual net output of 1,470 gigawatt-hours.12

Fact #13. Las Vegas is completely powered by renewable energy, including solar energy.

The city of Las Vegas, Nevada claims a 100% reliance on renewable energy. Most of the solar energy that Las Vegas uses comes from the solar facility Boulder Solar, with additional solar energy coming from net-metered solar panels.13

Fact #14. Solar energy is compatible with most energy-consuming items in households and buildings.

Any device that operates on Alternate Current or Direct Current can be powered by a solar energy system. This may require inverters and solar batteries, though.

The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy has additional information about solar energy and residential usage.

Fact #15. Solar energy can be used for water treatments.

Solar energy is a useful component for extracting salt from seawater and for rendering wastewater potable. Solar energy’s water applications are often overlooked when discussing facts about solar power.

Facts About Solar Energy and Its Benefits

Solar energy is a key solution for reducing the carbon emissions produced by electricity generation. Sadly, most countries around the world obtain electricity by burning fossil fuels.

Although there are other forms of green energy that have less of a carbon and ecological footprint than solar, in a residential application, solar offers an immediate way to remove your home from the grid, especially when the panels are placed on a structure that has already taken up ground space (such as your roof).

Graphics of facts about solar energy showing twelve icon-like cartoon images.

Check out these cool solar energy facts:

Fact #16. We’re not running out of solar energy any time soon.

At any given moment, 173,000 terawatts (173 petawatts) of solar energy hit Earth.14 The challenge is efficiently capturing and transporting this energy.

Other solar energy facts on this list address this challenge along with potential solutions.

Fact #17. Solar energy systems do not release pollution only when they capture and convert energy.

Collecting and using solar energy does not release harmful contaminants into the environment like fossil fuels and similar “dirty” energy sources.

However, manufacturing and properly disposing of solar energy systems have a significant carbon footprint. And when used as solar farms, can have a severely negative impact on the environment.

However, when placed on existing structures, such as homes, the ecological impact is diminished.

Fact #18. Photovoltaic systems generate little to no noise pollution.

Most photovoltaic systems create no noise pollution at all due to their lack of moving parts. Automatic tracking mounts – which follow the path of the sun to absorb the maximum amount of solar energy – may make some sound, but not enough to qualify as noise pollution.

Fact #19. Solar energy can help reduce the world’s global carbon footprint.

Even after factoring in the environmental costs associated with manufacturing, installing, and safely disposing of solar energy systems, experts suggest that solar energy reduces the world’s carbon emissions by 122 million metric tons.15

Fact #20. Residential solar panels can increase the property’s value.

Studies show that solar panels can increase the value of a residential property by up to $15,000.16

The caveat is that the residential owner must also own the solar panels; a third party owns the solar energy system under solar leases and power purchase agreements.

Moreover, the age of the panels impacts the increase.

Fact #21. Solar energy creates jobs.

Like all industry, solar energy employment people. As of November 2022, the United States’ solar energy industry employs over 230,000 people.15

Fact #22. Investing in solar farms can lead to long-term profit.

Investing in a well-planned and optimally maintained solar farm can have an ROI of between 10% and 20%, some experts suggest.

The key components are to place the solar farm in an area with high quantities of direct light and to operate the farm for its entire lifespan.

Facts About Solar and Its Drawbacks

Unfortunately, solar power is not perfect. To manufacture solar panels, the process is energy intensive.

Moreover, to dispose of panels that have exceeded their lifespan, the recycling operation requires many steps. This means that solar panels do have a carbon footprint, and currently, they are not the most ‘green’ power source.

That accolade belongs to nuclear power. Yet, when measuring the risks to benefits, solar energy can become an effective tool for reducing fossil fuel energy reliance.

These facts outline the current drawbacks:

Fact #23. Solar energy systems have steep upfront financial costs.

The combination of hardware costs – primarily manufacturing – and “soft costs” – non-hardware costs such as taxes, permit fees, and profit – drive the price of solar panels and related components.

Despite the 99% cost, potential solar energy system customers face tens of thousands of dollars in purchasing and installation costs.

Fact #24. Solar energy systems have significant upfront environmental costs.

The processes and materials associated with creating, transporting, and installing solar energy system components require that solar energy systems run for significant periods of time to reach the point where they benefit the environment.

These factors explain why the carbon footprint solar panels can be four times greater than that of nuclear energy.

Fact #25. Photovoltaic systems and concentrated solar energy facilities take up large amounts of space.

Multiple solar panels are often required to meet the needs of residential facilities. Industrial facilities and solar farms use more energy and require far more solar panels.

This makes solar energy a poor choice in areas with scarce land or roofs suitable for solar panels.

Fact #26. Poorly-planned photovoltaic systems can have detrimental impacts on the environment.

A vast portion of agricultural land turned into a Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) plant.

(Image: Mark Stebnicki30)

Repurposing land for solar energy system usage can displace flora and fauna.

In addition, concentrated solar energy farms can incinerate flying creatures such as birds and insects, making this one of the most macabre facts about solar farms.

Fact #27. Solar panels require special disposal and recycling procedures.

Though the toxic components in a solar panel pose a negligible threat to humans during their operation, dumping solar panels in landfills is a mistake that could cause those toxic elements to seep into land and water.

Fact #28. Air pollution dramatically decreases the effectiveness of photovoltaic systems.

Air pollution hinders photovoltaic systems in two ways: pollutants soiling solar panels and airborne particles blocking direct sunlight.

Areas with high air pollution can reduce solar cells’ output by over 25% and require more frequent cleaning and maintenance.17

Fact #29. Photovoltaic systems generate practically no energy at night.

No direct light and very little indirect light equals no energy generation for a photovoltaic system. Solar batteries can compensate for both nights and overcast days by storing energy collected and providing charge on demand.

“You know why we don’t have solar energy? It’s because the sun goes away each day, and it doesn’t tell us where it’s going!” – Lewis Black5

Interesting Facts About Solar Energy

If you haven’t gotten enough awesome information about solar energy facts, here’s some more that you may not know.

Fact #30. Types of solar cells determine the types of solar panels.

A common way to categorize solar panels is by the type of solar cells installed in the solar panels. Four commonly-used types of solar cells include:

  • Crystalline silicon cells: 27.6% optimal efficiency
  • Single-junction gallium arsenide cells: 30.8% optimal efficiency
  • Multijunction cells: 47.6% optimal efficiency
  • Thin films: 23.4% optimal efficiency27

Fact #31. Do solar panels work on cloudy days? Yes, thanks to indirect sunlight.

Solar thermal panels convert heat, not light, into electricity.

And traditional photovoltaic solar panels can convert indirect sunlight into energy, though at lower efficiency.

Graphics of facts about solar energy showing twelve cartoon images in icons.

Note, though, that operating a photovoltaic system with constant indirect sunlight or low direct sunlight can be detrimental to the environment and to the photovoltaic system itself.

Fact #32. There are alternatives to buying solar energy systems upfront:

  • Solar loans are like home improvement loans, allowing a residence owner to borrow money to purchase and install a solar energy system. The residence owner pays the financial institution, but the residence owner directly gains the benefits of solar energy such as lowered electricity bills (or even net metering for electricity credits) and government incentives such as grants and tax breaks.
  • Solar leases are like property leases; a solar company installs and owns the solar energy system on the resident’s property. The solar company receives monthly payments from the residence owner as well as government incentives.

The residence owner gets lower energy bills (or energy credits under net metering).

  • Power purchase agreements involve a solar company installing and owning the solar energy system on the resident’s property.

The resident pays the solar company monthly based on either the energy used or the energy generated. The solar company gets all of the benefits of the solar energy system, including government incentives and electricity credits where applicable.

Fact #33. Solar energy is a necessary component for biomass.

Photosynthesis converts solar energy into chemical energy, which in turn creates biomass, such as wood and energy crops.

Fact #34. There is more to a photovoltaic system than solar panels.

Photovoltaic systems require additional equipment to convert solar energy into usable electricity. Such components include:

  • Inverters, which convert Direct Current energy from solar panels into Alternate Current energy which most homes use
  • Charge regulators, which regulate the flow of energy from the solar panels
  • Wires, which connect the components of the photovoltaic system
  • Mounts, which hold the solar panels in place (and, in some cases, track the sun to absorb the maximum amount of direct sunlight)
  • Batteries, which store energy for use during times of low direct sunlight

Fact# 35. As of 2023, the White House currently has solar panels on its roof.

The Carter administration had the solar panels installed in 1979. The Reagan administration had them removed in 1981.

The Obama administration had new solar panels placed on the roof in 2014, where they remain to this day.18 The decades-long tug-of-war involved make this one of the more interesting facts about solar energy in the United States.

Fact #36. Transparent solar panels exist.

Michigan State University created working prototypes for transparent solar cells and currently have them installed on their campus. As of 2021, MSU’s Biomedical and Physical Science building has 100 square feet of transparent solar panels placed above the building’s entrance.19

Fact #37. Research suggests that there is no danger to humans from solar farms.

Though solar energy systems require special handling when disposing of them, the presence and operation of solar energy systems provide infinitesimal risks to a person’s health.20

Solar Energy Fun Facts

Solar can be a good thing, when done correctly.

Fact #38. In the United States, absorbing optimal direct sunlight requires photovoltaic systems to point their solar panels southward.

The contiguous 48 states in the United States are north of the equator, which receives the most heat and light from the sun. Photovoltaic systems in the United States have the best chance of capturing optimum direct sunlight by having their solar panels point south towards the equator.21

Fact #39. California has more solar energy than it can handle, but can’t keep the lights on.

The state had 24% of the entire country’s power outages, including rolling blackouts.

The amount of solar energy that California captures outpaces its ability to store and distribute it.

In 2022, CA accounted for nearly one quarter of all power outages in the U.S.

A solar power plant with a solar tower receiving sunlight from heliostats, with a mountain in the background.

(Image: Tim Mossholder.31)

The California Energy Commission has additional information about solar energy in California.

Fact #40. China built the first solar farm shaped like a giant panda.

The 250-acre solar farm in Datong arranges a portion of its solar panels to create a birds-eye-view image of a panda.22 However, this fun fact about solar energy has a misleading aspect: most articles covering this use artist renditions of the panda pattern instead of the actual panda pattern.

Fact #41. Sheep can help maintain solar energy systems.

“Solar sheep” lower the costs associated with managing vegetation at industrial solar farms by eating the vegetation. Though “solar sheep” may sound like a concept from a cartoon, the reality is that solar sheep can save up to 60% on vegetation maintenance.23

The Cornell Small Farms Program has additional information about solar sheep.

Fact #42. Germany has a portable solar-powered dance club.

German company Energy Floors has “The Container Club,” a dance club powered by five solar energy and 24 dance floor tiles that capture energy when patrons dance on them.24 Dancing and music are uncommon ways to put the “fun” in “solar energy fun facts.”

Fact #43. Ed Begley, Jr. has a bicycle with a solar battery pack.

United States actor and activist Ed Begley, Jr. combines exercise with energy generation with a bicycle that also doubles as a solar energy generator. In his own words:

“I ride my bike for transportation a great deal – occasionally I ride it for fun. But I also have a generator bike that’s hooked up to my solar battery pack, so if I ride 15 minutes hard on my bike, that’s enough energy to toast toast, or power my computer.” – Ed Begley, Jr.5

Fact #44. Activists like Michael Shellenberger aren’t totally in agreement about solar energy.

“The value of solar and wind decline in economic value as they become larger shares of the electricity grid for physical reasons. They produce too much energy when societies don’t need it and not enough energy when they do.” – Michael Shellenberger5

He also stated:

“Solar and wind advocates say cheaper solar panels and wind turbines will make the future growth in renewables cheaper than past growth but there are reasons to believe the opposite will be the case.” – Michael Shellenberger5

Fact #45. In 2014, a satirical article about solar panels draining the sun’s energy was mistaken for actual news.

Revisiting the topic of not believing everything posted on the internet: The National Report posted the satirical article, “Solar Panels Drain the Sun’s Energy, Experts Say.”

In retrospect, “scientists” comparing photovoltaic systems with using vacuum cleaners to completely drain a waterfall should have been an obvious tell.25 The Yale School of the Environment debunks less humorous and more common myths pertaining to solar energy.

Fact #46. In August of 2021, a viral TikTok video falsely claimed that parking meters in Belgium were non-operational due to not enough direct sunlight.

A factually-incorrect TikTok video gained so much attention that a Brussels spokesperson had to clarify that each solar-powered parking meter has two batteries as well as connections to monitoring tools that warn of low battery charges.26

A solar-powered parking meter with solar panels on top, situated on a curb with a residential building in the background.

(Image: Braeson Holland32)

The sun and the energy it provides – both through heat and light – are constant sources of fascination and inspiration.

In addition to solar energy and its many uses over 2,500 years, human literature has a variety of gods, heroes, and conflicts pertaining to the sun.

Solar energy is one of many parts of what must be a multi-faceted effort to reverse the damage humanity has done to the environment.

Excess carbon dioxide must be removed from the atmosphere, and pollutants must be reduced and cleaned.

Solar energy can be one part of the solution when used correctly. And that may be among the most important solar energy facts.


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2National Institute of Standards and Technology. (2021, June 2)Meter. NIST. Retrieved March 17, 2023, from <https://www.nist.gov/si-redefinition/meter>

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8Wikipedia. (2023, March 16). Solar Cell. Wikipedia. Retrieved March 17, 2023, from <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_cell>

9NASA. (2022, October 15). Vanguard 1. NASA Space Science Data Coordinated Archive. Retrieved March 17, 2023, from <https://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/nmc/spacecraft/display.action?id=1958-002B>

10Chandler, D. L. (2018, November 20). Explaining the plummeting cost of solar power. MIT News. Retrieved March 17, 2023, from <https://news.mit.edu/2018/explaining-dropping-solar-cost-1120>

11Energy Information Administration. (2020, April 6). Solar explained – Where solar is found and used. U.S. Energy Information Administration. Retrieved March 17, 2023, from <https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/solar/where-solar-is-found.php>

12Wikipedia. (2023, March 5). Ouarzazate Solar Power Station. Wikipedia. Retrieved March 17, 2023, from <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ouarzazate_Solar_Power_Station>

13LasVegasNevada.Gov. (2023). Sustainability Resources. LasVegasNevada.Gov. Retrieved March 17, 2023, from <https://www.lasvegasnevada.gov/Government/Initiatives/Sustainability/Sustainability-Resources?tab=0>

14Phongsavan, P. (2015, August). Energy on a Sphere. Science on a Sphere – National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved March 17, 2023, from <https://sos.noaa.gov/catalog/live-programs/energy-on-a-sphere/>

15Hunter, S. & Pelchen L. (2022, November 23). Here Are Some Awesome Facts About Solar Energy That May Surprise You. Forbes. Retrieved March 17, 2023, from <https://www.forbes.com/home-improvement/solar/solar-energy-facts/>

16Weiner, J. (2015, November 12). Team of Appraisers Across Six States Find Home Buyers Will Pay Premium for Solar Homes. Berkeley Lab. Retrieved March 17, 2023, from <https://newscenter.lbl.gov/2015/11/12/premium-for-solar-homes/>

17Kingery, K. (2017, June 26). Air Pollution Casts Shadow over Solar Energy Production. Pratt School of Enineering. Retrieved March 17, 2023, from <https://pratt.duke.edu/about/news/solar-pollution>

18Ibrahim, N. (2022, October 7). Does the White House Have Solar Panels on Its Roof? Snopes. Retrieved March 14, 2023, from <https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/solar-panels-white-house/>

19Michigan State University. (2021, August 25). Power generation you can see through. Michigan State University. Retrieved March 17, 2023, from <https://msutoday.msu.edu/news/2021/solar-glass-panels-installed>

20American Society of Clinical Oncology. (2022, January 4). Can Having Solar Panels or Living Near a Solar Farm Increase Your Cancer Risk? Cancer.Net. Retrieved March 17, 2023, from <https://www.cancer.net/blog/2022-01/can-having-solar-panels-or-living-near-solar-farm-increase-your-cancer-risk>

21Hyder, Z. (2023, January 10). What is the best direction for solar panels to face?  Solar Reviews. Retrieved March 17, 2023, from <https://www.solarreviews.com/blog/best-direction-orientation-solar-panels>

22Nace, T. (2017, July 25). China Just Built a 250-Acre Solar Farm Shaped Like A Giant Panda. Forbes. Retrieved March 17, 2023, from <https://www.forbes.com/sites/trevornace/2017/07/25/china-just-built-250-acre-solar-farm-shaped-giant-panda/?sh=3eee5e394685>

23Pickerel, K. (2020, January 8). Solar sheep are eating away at the O&M competition. Solar Power World. Retrieved March 17, 2023, from <https://www.solarpowerworldonline.com/2020/01/solar-sheep-are-eating-away-at-the-om-competition/>

24Parkin, C. (2016, October 26). The greenest festivals and venues in the world. Red Bull. Retrieved March 17, 2023, from <https://www.redbull.com/us-en/the-greenest-festivals-and-venues-in-the-world>

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26Evon, D. (2021, August 11). Do Belgium’s Solar Parking Meters Not Work Due to Lack of Sunlight? Snopes. Retrieved March 17, 2023, from <https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/belgiums-solar-parking-meters/>

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28Photo by GregReese. Pixabay. Retrieved from <https://pixabay.com/images/id-3349418/>

29Photo by 李大毛 没有猫. Unsplash. Retrieved from <https://unsplash.com/photos/fo29TwLF4to>

30Photo by Mark Stebnicki. Pexels.Retrieved from <https://www.pexels.com/photo/wemen-solar-farm-in-victoria-australia-11678747/>

31Photo by Tim Mossholder. Unsplash. Retrieved from <https://unsplash.com/photos/Bj8DjqmM-LQ>

32Photo by Braeson Holland. Pexels. Retrieved from <https://www.pexels.com/photo/the-control-panel-of-a-parking-meter-5943606/>