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In 2010, the total amount of installed solar capacity in the United States was 956 Megawatts. That sounds like a lot. But by my estimates, a typical US household requires a flow of 1.24 kilowatts. (The EIA reports average household energy use per year to be 10,896 kilowatt-hours (that’s a stock measure that we need to convert back to a flow). Since there are 8,766 hours per year, a typical household requires a flow of electricity equal to 1.24 kilowatts to power their appliances and phones and other goodies.

  1. Therefore, assuming that solar actually generates 100% of its advertised installed capacity (that’s a pipe dream – consider that the best estimates for wind are about 33% of installed capacity) that means the sum total of solar power in the entire country could power 771,000 homes.
  2. There are over 100 million households in the U.S. They consume only 36.4% of the total electricity generated (and not dissipated).
  3. The largest US coal-fired power plant is in Bowen, Georgia, and has a capacity of 3.499 Gigawatts. In other words, this single coal plant produces THREE AND A HALF TIMES times more electricity than all of the solar panels put together in the United States.

Some people think that in 20 years’ time, we could have 100% of our power generated by renewable energy. Well, right now we could. It would just cost us over a quadrillion dollars to do it. But hey, we can borrow that money, it’s stimulating right? All that debt worry is just nonsense.

5 Responses to “Fun Facts to Know and Tell, Solar Power Edition”

  1. Bowen is 3.499 GW = 3499 MW.
    956 MW of solar panels were installed during 2010. There were roughly 1.65 GW already installed, for a new total of 2.6 GW. The grand total is about the same as one average power plant, or a bit over half of Bowen.
    Note that the capacity factor for PV in prime sites is typically 15%, (see and a lot of the panels out there (including places like NJ) aren’t in prime sites, so you’d have to estimate capacity factor at closer to 10%.
    Bowen can deliver pretty much what’s on its nameplate. So the real comparison is that total installed PV is worth about 5% of Bowen.

  2. RIT_Rich says:

    As the commenter above pointed out, the real comparison is on the bases of generation, not installed capacity. Not that this improves solar’s standing; it actually worsens it. Wind and solar look (in the popular press) about 5 times better than they actually are on the bases of installed capacity.

    I just wanted to add that the plant in Bowen doesn’t have a 100% capacity factor either. It is closer to 73-74% (and of course, later generation plants are considerably better than this)

  3. Harry says:

    Many coal-fired plants are due to be shut down soon as part of the EPA’s war on coal, which is part of the broader war on capitalism.

    Fortunately the Volt is not selling well, which means there will not be a big surge in demand soon from that.

    How do you think people will like higher electricity and fuel oil prices? When it gets cold in Indiana, and there is a blackout and the pipes freeze, will they be happy?

  4. Michael says:

    Not just the EPA, but also FERC.

  5. jb says:

    See today’s WSJ (opinon) “Nevergreen Solar”. Mass. essentially provided $58 million in subisidies for this turkey of a solar panel plant, which has now been closed and 800 laid off. Not enough, of course. They are crying for more $$ from the Feds.

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