Investments in solar energy are accelerating. The sector is on track to add 10 gigawatts (GW) of new capacity per year through 2022, with that growing to an average annual pace of 18 to 20 GW from 2023 to 2030 thanks to rapidly falling costs for solar panels and battery storage. Solar stocks could thrive over the next decade.

Given the upside potential, investors should strongly consider adding some solar stocks to their portfolios. Building a mini portfolio of companies focused on the sector is a great way to do that. An excellent place to start is by investing $3,000 evenly across top solar stocks like Brookfield Renewable (NYSE:BEP)(NYSE:BEPC)First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR), and NextEra Energy (NYSE:NEE).

Rows of solar panels.

Image source: Getty Images.

A solar-powered future

Brookfield Renewable is one of the leading renewable power producers globally. It currently has 19.3 GW of capacity, 64% of which comes from hydropower. 

Although Brookfield's focus has been hydropower, solar is becoming an increasingly important growth driver for the company due to rapidly falling costs. The company has spent the past couple of years building an extensive solar energy platform and development project backlog. It currently has 3 GW of operating solar capacity and 10 GW under development. Thanks to this progress and the rapid decline in solar costs, the company "believe[s] it is possible that in 10 years from now the majority of the production capacity of Brookfield Renewable will be solar capacity." That outlook makes it an excellent choice to play the growth in solar. More importantly, the company has a long track record of creating shareholder value, which it expects to continue for the foreseeable future.  

Cashing in on solar growth

First Solar is one of the leading solar panel manufacturers, focusing on thin-film technology designed for utility-scale projects. The company currently has an extensive backlog of signed contracts (12.2 GW) and potential booking opportunities (8.3 GW). That's enough work to keep it busy for years, given its current manufacturing capacity of 5.7 GW.

The company is working to build out additional solar panel manufacturing capacity, which will allow it to capture more of the sector's growth. It has one of the best balance sheets in the industry to support this expansion, backed by $1.4 billion in cash. That combination of visible upside and financial strength should enable this solar energy stock to generate high-powered returns in the coming years.

An ambitious solar power plan

NextEra Energy is one of the leading global solar energy producers. The company currently operates 3 GW of solar in its energy resources segment and enough capacity within its main electric utility in Florida to produce more power from the sun than oil and coal.

The company is on track to significantly expand its solar operations in both business units. It currently expects to build 3.8 to 7.3 GW of new solar energy capacity within its energy resources division by 2022. On top of that, it has 700 megawatts to 1.3 GW of battery storage projects in the pipeline, with most of that capacity tied to solar. Meanwhile, it expects to install 30 million solar panels by 2030 within its main Florida utility.

Those solar energy development projects have NextEra Energy on track to grow its earnings and dividend at above-average rates over the next few years. Because of that, it should continue generating market-beating total returns.

A sunny future for these solar stocks

Brookfield Renewable, First Solar, and NextEra Energy all boast significant solar-powered growth in the coming years. They thus have the potential to generate substantial total returns. That visible upside potential makes this trio ideal for investors with limited funds who want exposure to the fast-growing solar sector. They can build a mini-portfolio to buy and hold for the long haul. 

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.