Solar Set for Record Growth Year
March 9, 2016
Above, Bloomberg New Energy Finance expert on solar energy in the developing world, where simple systems can be game changers. Below, new reports predicting record shattering growth in the US for 2016.
Bear in mind, the Energy Information Administration, which is quoted in the Washington Post here, has historically lowballed solar and renewable energy growth curves.
New statistics just released by the U.S. Energy Information Administration suggest that in the coming year, the booming solar sector will add more new electricity-generating capacity than any other — including natural gas and wind.
EIA reports that planned installations for 2016 include 9.5 gigawatts of utility-scale solar — followed by 8 gigawatts (or 8 billion watts) of natural gas and 6.8 gigawatts of wind. This suggests solar could truly blow out the competition, because the EIA numbers are only for large or utility-scale solar arrays or farms and do not include fast-growing rooftop solar, which will also surely add several additional gigawatts of capacity in 2016.
In other words, U.S. solar seems poised for not just a record year but perhaps a blowout year. Last year, in contrast, solar set a new record with 7.3 gigawatts of total new photovoltaic capacity across residential, commercial, and utility scale installations.
“If actual additions ultimately reflect these plans, 2016 will be the first year in which utility-scale solar additions exceed additions from any other single energy source,” says EIA.
For the first time ever utility-scale solar projects will add more new capacity to the nation’s grid than any other industry this year, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported Tuesday.
Natural gas and wind energy follow somewhat closely, according to the EIA’s monthly report, which notes that solar, gas and wind energy will make up 93 percent of all new energy. Solar projects will generate about 9.5 gigawatts of new energy. Natural gas, meanwhile, will add 8 gigawatts while wind is poised to create 6.8 gigawatts.
One gigawatt is enough energy to power about 700,000 average homes.
“I think it’s great, it’s evidence that the [solar] industry’s moved really into the mainstream,” said Justin Baca, vice president of markets and research at the Solar Energy Industries Association, in an interview with ThinkProgress. Seven years ago solar energy was proving that it was a real alternative to fossil fuels, he said, but now, “we’ve demonstrated that we are a real significant player in electricity markets.”
The EIA report comes less than a month after the Solar Foundation said the U.S. solar industry now employs slightly over 200,000 workers, representing a growth of 20 percent since November of 2014.
The new report further cements the scale of solar energy growth, since solar additions coming online this year are much higher than the 3.1 GW added to the grid in 2015. What’s more, this year’s growth would be more than what the industry achieved in the past three years combined.
CREDIT: U.S. Energy Information Administration
Just last month officials in southern California unveiled one of the largest solar power plants in the world near Palm Springs. The top five states where solar capacity is being added are California, North Carolina, Nevada, Texas, and Georgia.
The overall growth of the solar industry is partly attributed to a reduction in costs, a rush to take advantage of federal tax cuts that were recently extended, and beneficial state policies like renewable energy mandates.
Another important player is technological innovations. Every year solar panels are able to turn more sunlight into energy. On Wednesday, for instance, Panasonic announced a new efficiency world record of 23.8 percent. High efficiency panels help drive greater solar deployment and are particularly beneficial for homeowners who are looking into rooftop solar, which was not accounted for in the EIA report.
Solar. Planned utility-scale solar additions total 9.5 GW in 2016, the most of any single energy source. This level of additions is substantially higher than the 3.1 GW of solar added in 2015 and would be more than the total solar installations for the past three years combined (9.4 GW during 2013-15). The top five states where solar capacity is being added are California (3.9 GW), North Carolina (1.1 GW), Nevada (0.9 GW), Texas (0.7 GW), and Georgia (0.7 GW). These values reflect utility-scale solar capacity additions, and do not include any distributed generation (i.e., rooftop solar). In 2015, nearly 2 GW of distributed solar photovoltaic capacity was added. The same federal tax credit incentives for distributed solar installations available in 2015 are available in 2016.
Natural gas. Most capacity additions over the past 20 years have been natural gas-fired units. About 8 GW is expected to be added this year, slightly above the 7.8 GW average annual additions over the previous five years. Four states plan to add more than 1 GW of natural gas-fired capacity this year: Pennsylvania (1.6 GW), Virginia (1.4 GW), Florida (1.3 GW), and Texas (1.1 GW).
Wind. Additions of wind capacity are expected to be slightly lower than in 2015, when 8.1 GW of wind made up by far the largest portion of 2015 capacity additions. Wind capacity additions in 2016 are expected to total 6.8 GW. Most wind additions are found in the Plains region between the Dakotas and Minnesota, south to Texas and eastern New Mexico.
Nuclear. Tennessee Valley Authority’s Watts Bar 2 nuclear facility in southeastern Tennessee, with a summer nameplate capacity of 1.1 GW, is expected to begin commercial operation in June 2016. When Watts Bar 2 comes online, it will be the first new nuclear reactor brought online in the United States in 20 years. The most recent reactor to come online was Watts Bar 1 in May 1996.