Where Is Solar Energy Most Commonly Used?

Solar energy is becoming an increasingly popular source of renewable power around the world. Solar panels and solar farms can now be seen in many places, from the rooftops of homes to large-scale solar plants. But where exactly is solar energy being utilized the most? What are the most common applications for solar power today?

In this article, we will examine the primary uses of solar energy and where it is most widely adopted. We will look at the growth of solar in key sectors like residential, commercial, utilities, transportation, agriculture, and developing countries. By exploring the typical applications for solar technology, we can better understand where and how solar is having the biggest impact.

Residential Homes

One of the most common uses of solar energy is on residential homes. Homeowners are increasingly installing solar panels, especially photovoltaic panels, on their rooftops to reduce their reliance on the grid and cut electricity bills. The growth of residential solar has been rapid. Over the past decade, the number of American households with rooftop solar has increased from around 30,000 in 2009 to over 2 million today. That’s a staggering 6,600% growth rate. California leads the nation with over 1 million homes powered by solar energy. Other leading states for residential solar include Arizona, New Jersey, Nevada and Florida.

The main driver behind this growth is the falling cost of solar panels, making it more affordable for homeowners. Government incentives like tax credits have also played a role. The typical home system is around 5-10 kilowatts and can provide a sizable chunk of a home’s electricity needs while also feeding excess power back into the grid. This gives homeowners energy independence and insulation from rising utility rates. There is still ample room for further growth, as less than 4% of households currently have rooftop solar installed.

Commercial Buildings

Solar energy is increasingly being adopted by businesses and corporations to power their office buildings and facilities. The falling prices of solar panels, favorable tax incentives, and desires to meet sustainability goals are driving commercial solar growth.

Major companies like Apple, Amazon, and Walmart have installed solar arrays on their warehouses, data centers, and retail stores. For example, Apple powers all of its data centers and offices worldwide with 100% renewable energy, much of it coming from on-site solar installations. Amazon has installed solar on many of its fulfillment centers, with goals to power its operations with 100% renewable energy. Walmart is one of America’s top corporate solar users, with over 500 solar installations at its stores and distribution centers.

Beyond large corporations, small and mid-sized businesses are also embracing solar. Roof space makes office parks, shopping centers, and industrial buildings ideal for solar panels. Solar helps stabilize energy costs for companies and support corporate sustainability initiatives.


Solar energy is commonly used by electric utilities to generate electricity on a large scale. Utility-scale solar power plants can produce hundreds of megawatts of electricity and feed into the grid to supply homes and businesses.

Some of the largest solar farms in the world generate well over 1,000 megawatts of power. Topaz Solar Farm in California has a capacity of 550 megawatts, making it one of the biggest in the United States. Other large solar plants are located in China, India, Morocco, South Africa, and across Europe.

The popularity of utility-scale solar has grown enormously over the past decade. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the total installed capacity of utility-scale solar power in the U.S. has increased from 2,500 megawatts in 2012 to over 30,000 megawatts today. That’s more than a 10-fold increase in less than a decade. Many experts predict continued rapid growth in large-scale solar installations globally.

solar panels in field generating power for irrigation system


One of the most important uses for solar energy is to power agricultural operations like irrigation systems for crops and water pumps for livestock. Installing solar panels and batteries to run equipment like water pumps allows farms to access reliable energy without needing to connect to the electrical grid.

Solar-powered irrigation is becoming increasingly common, especially in hot and sunny regions where crops need to be watered frequently. Using solar energy for irrigation helps farmers avoid high electricity costs and supply interruptions from the grid. It also enables irrigation access in remote areas without existing infrastructure.

Solar water pumps are able to draw water from wells, rivers, ponds or canals to irrigate fields. They can be sized and configured to meet the specific water needs of the farm. Solar power allows farmers to access water autonomously without relying on diesel-powered generators.

In addition to irrigation, solar energy can also provide electricity for barns, greenhouses, and other agricultural structures. Solar panels installed on barn rooftops or above animal enclosures can supply renewable power for lighting, ventilation, feeding systems and other farm operations.

The abundance of sun and open space makes agriculture well suited for adopting solar technology. Solar energy allows farms and rural communities to reduce electricity costs, access modern equipment, and increase resiliency and self-sufficiency.


Transportation is another major area where solar energy is being adopted more widely. One application is powering electric vehicle (EV) charging stations with solar panels. Installing solar EV charging stations provides a clean energy source for fueling EVs while also reducing demand on the electrical grid. Major EV manufacturers like Tesla are rolling out solar charging stations to align with their renewable energy mission. Some stations are being built with canopy structures covered entirely in solar panels. Beyond charging stations, solar technology is also making its way onto vehicles themselves. Some automakers are integrating solar panels into car roofs, truck bed covers, and bus roofs to help power auxiliary systems and even drive motors. The lightweight, aerodynamic nature of solar panels makes them well-suited for vehicles. While the panels currently provide supplemental energy, ongoing advancements and expanded surface area could enable solar-powered cars in the future. With transportation accounting for a substantial portion of overall energy use, solar technology is expected to play an increasing role in powering new mobility systems while reducing carbon emissions.

Solar in Developing Nations

Solar energy is playing a major role in bringing electricity to rural and off-grid areas in developing countries around the world. Lack of access to reliable energy is a significant barrier to economic development and improved quality of life. An estimated 1.2 billion people worldwide lack access to electricity.

Solar panels and microgrids allow developing communities to bypass building large-scale energy infrastructure and leapfrog straight to distributed renewable energy. Solar is well-suited for remote areas because it doesn’t require fuel deliveries or transmission lines. It also scales down cost-effectively to serve individual homes and villages.

Some key examples of solar implementation in developing nations include:

  • Bangladesh launched a program bringing solar power to over 4 million rural households.
  • Peru is using solar to provide electricity in the Amazon region.
  • Morocco is building the world’s largest solar farm to export clean energy to Europe while expanding domestic access.
  • India is rapidly scaling rooftop solar through government initiatives and grassroots entrepreneurship.
  • Across sub-Saharan Africa, small solar systems are increasingly powering homes, schools, medical clinics and water pumps in rural villages.

Solar energy is fulfilling a critical need for affordable, sustainable electricity and lighting up communities that were previously living without power. With solar costs continuing to fall, developing nations are poised to leapfrog fossil fuel dependence and build inclusive renewable energy economies.

Most Common Uses

When looking at where solar energy is utilized most around the world, several key applications stand out. Based on the widespread adoption of solar in the residential, commercial, utilities, agriculture, and transportation sectors, as well as the growing reliance on solar energy in developing nations, the most common uses of solar can be summarized as follows:

  • Solar panels on residential homes, especially rooftop solar systems, which allow homeowners to generate their own electricity.
  • Commercial solar installations on the roofs or grounds of businesses, warehouses, factories, and other facilities.
  • Large-scale solar farms and solar thermal plants operated by electric utilities to feed renewable energy into the grid.
  • Solar-powered water pumps, lights, and other equipment used in agricultural operations.
  • Solar panels integrated into cars, trucks, buses, trains, boats, and other vehicles to help power their systems.
  • Small-scale off-grid solar systems providing basic electricity to remote villages and communities without consistent grid access.

Taken together, these diverse applications account for the bulk of solar energy utilization around the world. With solar panel costs steadily decreasing even as efficiency increases, these uses are projected to expand significantly in the coming decades.

Growth Projections

The future looks bright for solar energy. As solar technology improves and costs continue to fall, solar is expected to keep up its rapid growth trajectory and play an increasingly major role in energy markets globally.

According to projections from the International Energy Agency (IEA), solar photovoltaic capacity could grow from around 600 gigawatts worldwide in 2019 to over 8,500 gigawatts by 2040 under the IEA’s Sustainable Development Scenario, which outlines an integrated approach to achieving internationally agreed upon climate and development goals. This would make solar the world’s largest source of power generation by 2040.

The IEA predicts that large-scale adoption of solar PV for electricity generation coupled with the electrification of transport and heat will result in solar accounting for over 35% of global electricity generation by 2040. This is a massive increase from the under 3% solar contributed in 2019.

Driving this growth is the rapidly improving cost-competitiveness of solar technology compared to fossil fuels, allowing solar to increasingly outcompete conventional power on economics alone in many locations. With solar already among the lowest cost options for new power generation in countries making up over two-thirds of the world’s population, its competitiveness lead over other technologies is projected to continue increasing going forward.

Policy support will also remain an important driver of solar growth in the next couple of decades. Government incentives like tax credits, renewable energy mandates, carbon pricing programs and direct support for research and development will all help further boost solar adoption worldwide.

Overall, analysts broadly agree that we are still just in the early stages of the transition to solar energy. If projections hold true, the next few decades will see solar proliferate dramatically across numerous applications, cementing its place as a pillar of global energy supply.


In summary, solar energy is increasingly being adopted around the world for a wide variety of applications. We’ve seen solar being utilized across sectors like residential, commercial, utilities, agriculture, transportation, and developing nations. The most common uses tend to be in homes, businesses, and solar farms/utilities to generate electricity. Global solar capacity has been growing exponentially over the past decade, and projections indicate strong continued growth in the years ahead. With solar panel costs declining and efficiency improving, solar is becoming more accessible and affordable worldwide. Given solar’s clean, renewable nature, and ability to be deployed at various scales, it is likely to play a major role in the global transition to sustainable energy.

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