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Solar Energy

What is solar energy?

Solar panels generate electricity with no carbon emissions when light particles, called photons, reach the panel’s surface. Each panel at a utility-scale solar installation is roughly 6 feet long and 3 feet wide and weighs about 50 pounds. Residential solar panels, on the other hand, can be as small as roof shingles.

Photons are like tiny packets of energy. When they fall on the panel’s glass top, they’re absorbed by the cells within, and electrons break free from the packet. The cell is made of several layers including a semiconductor (usually silicon) and metals that create an electric current and direct the loose electrons through wires into an inverter, which converts the electricity from direct current to alternating current so it’s compatible with the grid and then the appliances in your home.

State of the solar union

In the last decade alone, solar power generation has experienced average annual growth of 24%. Supported by declining costs and increasing demand for clean energy, as well as strong federal policies like the Solar Investment Tax Credit, there are now more than 149 gigawatts (GW) of solar capacity installed nationwide, enough to power 26 million homes.

  • Nationwide, the residential segment installed just shy of 6 GW in 2022, growing by a staggering 40% over 2021. A record 700,000 homeowners installed solar in 2022.
  • Today, nearly 5% of U.S. electricity comes from solar generation, almost 11 times as much as a decade ago.

In 2022, Duke Energy and its subsidiaries had 180 utility-scale solar projects in 16 states and can generate more than 10,000 megawatts of electricity from wind and solar.

Source: Solar Energy Industries Association

Think you know solar now? Why not take our Solar Quiz!

solar panels at sunset

How you can participate in solar energy

There are many ways to get involved in solar. You can install panels on your own roof or participate in shared or community solar programs that help fund the growth of solar while you earn bill credits. There are also REC-buying programs that enable you to purchase renewable energy certificates directly from Duke Energy.

Find details on these and other Duke Energy renewable programs on our Renewables and Electric Vehicles page.

Planet-friendly energy for a cleaner tomorrow

There's a lot more to renewable energy than solar panels and wind turbines. We're here to help you gain a better understanding of renewables and offer ways to participate in the transition to cleaner energy sources.