Clean energy is on the up and up again, and the U.S. solar industry is benefiting as a result. According to a new report, this year is expected to see solar installations increase despite a drop in installations last year.
Clean Energy on the Rise
The report from the Solar Energy Industries Association and Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables, a market research group, was published June 4th. It shoes that 2.7 gigawatts of solar capacity had been added to the grid in the first quarter of 2019. That makes it the strongest in the U.S. solar industry’s history! The report projects new solar installations should grow 25 percent from 2018, to 13.3 gigawatts.The bounce back from the 2 percent dip last year was driven by large-scale utility solar projects. These types of projects account for 61 percent of the first quarter’s growth.
This marks a significant change from what was expected last year after President Trump’s announcement for tariffs on imported solar cells and modules. The industry was worried at the time that the tariffs would hinder solar, especially after 2017’s job losses. However, solar installations rose past the 2 million mark this year, which is a marker worth celebrating.
“We’ve now gone a full five quarters with the tariffs being in place, and the market has seemed to have really settled down and has grown quite robustly,” said Colin Smith, senior analyst with Wood Mackenzie, to Earther. “Now, we’re in a position where we’re seeing a lot of market growth beyond what we initially expected a year ago or simply overcome any impacts of the tariffs.”
Areas of Growth
The report notes that residential rooftop solar is seeing some growth. Meanwhile, non-residential solar is facing a decline. This refers to solar panels found on commercial and industrial facilities, as well as community solar projects. The real saviors are utility solar projects that feed into the grid. The report notes that this sector should grow by 46 percent this year from 2018. In particular, this is attributed to large solar projects in Florida and the Carolinas. Florida has been leading the charge in solar installations so far this year, followed by California.
The industry expects this growth to continue well past 2019, as well. Several U.S. utilities – from Dominion to Duke Energy – have solar projects in the works. These projects are projected to become reality by 2024. Furthermore, non-residential solar is expected to see some growth in the coming years. The authors of the report expect community solar to make up close to 30 percent of non-residential solar capacity by 2023. Additionally, another roughly 20 percent will come from solar-plus-storage as energy storage starts to gain some steam.
Corporations are also helping fuel solar’s growth, said Smith. Companies like Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and Google are procuring hundreds of megawatts-if not gigawatts-of solar to help fuel their internal renewable energy targets.
“In years past, we were really looking at distributed generation so residential and commercial rooftop projects as one segment,” Smith told Earther, “but we’re now seeing this emerging segment that’s really driving growth.”
Currently, solar makes up less than 2 percent of the U.S. energy generation. However, as costs have gone down solar has grown more than 1700 percent since 2008 according to the Department of Energy. Renewables, in general, are set to be the “fastest growing source of U.S. electricity generation for at least the next two years,” per the Energy Information Administration. Meanwhile, coal generation has been falling; it’s currently only 28 percent of U.S. energy generation.
Is this enough?
Still, solar and wind energy may not be enough to meet targets set by the Paris Agreement according to E&E News reports. Other renewable clean energy types may be necessary during winter months when energy demands are highest. Governments may need to step in to ensure that more research is done on nuclear, renewable hydrogen, biogas, and carbon capture. If we’re to break our dependency on fossil fuels, we need to find ways to bridge the gaps if times come when wind and solar cannot produce enough energy.
The energy market is changing, and we all need to be prepared.