Solar generates far less than 1% of the world's electricity supply, but it has grown by more than 40% annually over the last five years, said Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Assn.
"The solar industry is the next great high-tech industry," Resch said. "Our estimate is that within 10 years solar will be the lowest-cost option for electricity in the U.S."
Many state governments are creating programs to reduce emissions of heat-trapping gases such as carbon dioxide and to expand the use of carbon-free energy such as wind and solar.
California hopes to overtake Germany and Japan as the world's largest solar market with its "million solar roofs" program, which provides $3 billion in rebates to those who install rooftop panels. The state's landmark global warming legislation, which seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25% in the next 14 years, is also expected to dramatically expand the market for solar power.
"With the help of Silicon Valley," said Bernadette Del Chiaro, clean energy advocate for the group Environment California, "California can become the Saudi Arabia of the sun, exporting new technologies for the rest of the country and world."