Friday, June 10, 2016

New U.S. Solar Capacity Just Outperformed Fossil Fuels

Solar panel array (Credit: Prnewsfoto/Innovative Solar Systems, LLC) Click to Enlarge
The solar industry added more new generating capacity this past quarter than coal, natural gas, and nuclear power combined, according to the U.S. Solar Market Insight report released Thursday.

With 1,665 megawatts brought online in the first quarter of 2016, solar accounted for 64 percent of all new electric generating capacity, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) report said.  One megawatt of solar power can energize roughly 160 homes, though that depends on average sunshine, average household electricity consumption, and other factors.  According to the report, there are now more than a million operating solar photovoltaic installations across the country, representing 27.5 gigawatts of operating capacity. Just one gigawatt is enough electricity to power about 700,000 average homes.

Renewable energy in general has begun to beat fossil fuels in new installed capacity on a more and more regular basis.  Solar grows by leaps and bounds.  Residential solar and utility PV both beat natural gas in the first quarter of 2015 in terms of new capacity.  In the first quarter of 2014, solar installations accounted for 74 percent of all new U.S. electric capacity.

Renewable energy installations have experienced record growth in recent times as the technology becomes increasingly cheaper, and developers rushed to take advantage of federal tax cuts that were extended in December giving the industry a push and stability for several years.

Some states, like California, have implemented renewable energy mandates.  Another important player is technological innovations.  Every year solar panels are able to turn more sunlight into electricity, which makes the industry an increasingly strong alternative to fossil fuels.  Coal, gas, and oil still dominate the electricity market but unavoidably produce greenhouse gas emissions that exacerbate climate change.

The Little-Known Reason Renewable Prices Are Dropping
However, the report notes that California, a state that consistently tops solar development charts, showed flat growth last quarter.  That is unlikely to continue as the year unfolds, according to the report.  Meanwhile, the rooftop solar market -- which some environmentalists prefer since it avoids land disturbance -- is becoming increasingly fragmented and complicated as debates over net metering and rate design continue in many states.  Still, New York’s and Maryland’s rooftop solar markets experienced over 25 percent growth this quarter.

“While it took us 40 years to hit 1 million U.S. solar installations, we’re expected to hit 2 million within the next two years,” said Tom Kimbis, SEIA’s interim president, in a statement.  “The solar industry is growing at warp speed, driven by the fact that solar is one of the lowest cost options for electricity and it’s being embraced by people who both care about the environment and want access to affordable and reliable electricity.”

Read more at New U.S. Solar Capacity Just Outperformed Fossil Fuels

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