Solar power, if it were only affordable, has the power to fill the entire country's energy needs - using existing rooftops and other already paved surfaces. The main thing keeping solar from revolutionizing our energy system is its cost. A KPMG report, commissioned by Greenpeace in 1999, shows that for about $660 million (the cost of only 2 of the 1300-1900 new power plants proposed under the Bush/Cheney Energy "Plan"), a large-scale solar panel factory can be built which would bring the cost of solar power down by 4-5 times so that solar is competitive with existing conventional energy sources.
Mass production of solar PV can make solar cost-competitive with (or even cheaper than) dirty energy technologies. As nanosolar applications and other new technologies roll out within the next 5-10 years, this cost reduction is inevitable. Once solar is cost-competitive, there's no limit on the amount of energy that can come from distributed solar generation (and there are many jobs to be created in installing it all).
The Department of Energy estimates that a distributed solar system would involve an average of 17 square miles of PV per state. Using vacant land, parking lots and rooftops would provide plenty of land for this. They state that using the estimated 5 million acres of abandoned industrial "brownfields" sites in our nation's cities could supply 90% of America's current electric demand.
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Solar panel production can involve some pretty toxic chemicals. However, after solar cells are produced, there is little hazard from ongoing use and no need for the continued pollution that nuclear power and all forms of combustion (fossil fuels and biomass/incineration) create. Some studies on the toxics used in solar manufacturing are below: