Record Year for Solar

2014 was a great year for the solar industry and California was the driver of record-breaking growth of solar industry in the country.

Over 6,200 megawatts of traditional solar capacity came online in the U.S. in 2014. This is 30% more than in 2013 and enough to power over one million homes. California was actually responsible for over half of that growth, about 3,550 megawatts.

Solar was responsible for 32% of new electricity generating capacity in the US in 2014. Solar was the second greatest generator following natural gas, responsible for 42%. Wind was responsible for 23% of new capacity and coal was responsible for less than 1%.

A huge reason for this boom in solar energy is that the cost of solar fell substantially in 2013 and 2014. Cory Honeyman, a solar analyst for GTM Research, a clean-tech consulting firm, remarks are the solar industry, “There really was this growing up process over the past 24 months, where I think a lot of drivers of growth really expanded beyond regulatory-driven reasons.”

California has been the nation’s leader in the solar industry for the past eight years. In 2014 the state installed over three times as much solar power as it did in 2012 and nine times more capacity than the second leader in the industry, North Carolina.

California’s rooftop solar industry has also dappled with diverse methods of solar power. 73 cities in Southern California installed at least one megawatt of rooftop solar in 2014. In 2013 it was 56 cities and in 2012 it was only 22 cities.

The Solar Foundation reported that the solar industry employed almost 55,000 people in California in 2014. California’s boom in the solar industry could be a result of a few things: a plethora of sunlight, open spaces to build these projects, the decrease in price of solar in general and legal mandates intended to limit California’s contribution to climate change. The state’s major utilities are intending to purchase 33% of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020, a new requirement by the state. Policymakers are actually considering increasing this mandate to 50%!

Even though 2014 was record-breaking for the solar industry, we cannot be sure if things will continue on this trajectory. A federal investment tax credit for solar power is scheduled to drop from 30% to 10% at the end of 2016. This could have a huge slowing effect on the current growth of the industry. The solar industry is predicting an 84% drop in large-scale solar installations in 2016 to 2017. The report also projects that the industry could be able to recover by 2020 without the 30% tax credit if overall solar photovoltaic installations come close to 2016 levels.

The falling prices of solar overall could also help to balance out the decreasing tax credit. The solar association still plans to attempt to convince Congress to extend the 30% tax credit. If they fail, 2017 could be a difficult year, according to Ken Johnson, spokesman for the Solar Energy Industry Association. According to Ken, “No one knows how for sure this is going to shake out.”

Three concentrated solar plans emerged in 2014 and so far there is only one planned for 2015. A few have been “delayed indefinitely.” Concentrated solar power has an advantage over traditional solar panels. They have the ability to store energy, which means they can generate energy after the sun goes down. However, concentrated solar technology is more expensive. While we have seen certain cost reductions, hopefully there are more to come.

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