• May 4, 2016

    Chasing “Ra”

    Heath Knakmuhs

What is the fastest growing source of renewable energy in America?  Is it all those windmills dotting the plains?  Is it the new geothermal resources harnessing the Earth’s heat from deep below our feet?  Or is it the wealth of hydroelectric power that provides a dispatch-able, dependable, resource for countless homes and businesses?  None of the above.  For the answer, look up—at the sun.

To the Egyptians, the sun represented light, warmth, and growth (represented by the sun God, Ra).  Today, the “growth” component is as important as ever thanks to the solar energy industry.   Solar power is the fastest growing renewable resource in the nation.  To be clear, solar still represents less than one percent of the electricity you and I depend on every day, but its market share continues to slowly increase.

In 2016, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) expects utility-scale solar additions to total 9.5 gigawatts (GW), which would be the most of any electricity resource.  This will triple the 3.1 GW of utility scale solar installations that occurred in 2015.  Add to this the nearly 2 GW of rooftop solar photovoltaic capacity that was added to homes and businesses, and solar is clearly climbing out of the “other” category of lesser-known energy resources.  In fact, the solar industry now counts our installed domestic solar energy resources to total to reach 27.4 GW, or enough to power 5.4 million American homes.

One need only look back at the recent decade of progress for solar to know that the solar train doesn’t appear to be slowing down:

  • In 2004, approximately 15,500 homes had solar installations across the U.S. Through the end of 2014, that number had grown to 600,000.
  • From 2004 to 2014, the number of utility-scale solar projects in the U.S. increased by more than 10-fold, growing from 100 projects to nearly 1,100 projects.
  • From 2004 to 2014, the amount of installed utility-scale solar capacity in the U.S. increased by more than 30 times, from 365 MW to 11,440 MW.
  • In 2004, the U.S. had 58 MW of total solar capacity.  In 2014, a record total 7,000 MW of solar came online.
  • Over this 10-year period, the average price of an installed residential solar system dropped by more than 60 percent, and utility-scale installation prices plummeted by more than 73 percent.

This week, the solar energy industry is celebrating the one-millionth installation nationwide.  The potential exists for even more growth over the next few years, meaning that solar will be a contributor to our diverse electricity mix