50 years ago, the future of solar energy looked bright

Excerpt from the April 8, 1972 issue of Science News

an aerial photo showing a solar farm. There are rows and rows of solar panels grouped into squares as far as the image stretches. The sun is low in the sky.

The first solar energy farm in the United States was established in 1982. Today, the country has more than 2,500 such farms (one shown).

Markus Altmann/Corbis/Getty Images

Farming the sun’s energyScience News, April 8, 1972

cover of the April 8, 1972 issue of Science News

More and more scientists and engineers are beginning to believe that solar conversion will account for a significant portion of the world’s future power needs.… What has changed the atmosphere lately is … the possibility of putting together large-scale units, solar-energy “farms” that would compete with power stations in the megawatt range and higher.


Solar energy production in the United States ramped up as solar panels became cheaper to manufacture and more efficient at generating electricity (SN: 3/1/08, p. 133). Since the first U.S. solar power plant opened in 1982, thousands more have been built, bringing the country’s solar capacity today to more than 100 gigawatts. In 2021, solar energy made up nearly 3 percent of the electricity produced in the United States. And the future is looking bright: Solar energy and storage is projected to account for more than 60 percent of the U.S. power grid’s new generating capacity from 2022 through 2023, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Aina Abell is the editorial assistant at Science News. She holds a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from the University of Southern California.

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