Get Smart Fast: Solar Power

Solar power is growing faster than ever in the United States. The price of solar panels has dropped dramatically, by more than 70 percent over the past decade. Decreased prices and tighter environmental regulations, along with state and federal incentives, have resulted in huge increases in solar power capacity. More than 27 gigawatts of total solar power capacity is currently in place, enough to power 5.4 million American homes.

Solar power can be divided into two categories: Utility-scale and rooftop.

Utility-scale power usually consists of "solar farms" or fields of solar panels that generate electricity for traditional power companies.

Rooftop solar - also known as distributed generation -- consists of solar panels on the roof of a residential or commercial building. Typically, the electricity needs of that building are met at least in part by the power that is generated from the roof.

Some states have tried to encourage distributed generation by allowing excess power to be sold back to the local utility. This has been controversial. Utilities providing baseload power and managing the grid struggle with unexpected supply spikes from home-based solar rooftop panels.

Despite some of these controversies, solar power is likely to continue to see strong support and increased deployment as stakeholders face tightening environmental standards and ongoing concerns about climate change.