Solar Power in the United States
Solar power in the United States includes utility-scale solar power plants and locally distributed generations, usually from rooftop photovoltaics. By the end of 2017, the country had over 50 GW of installed photovoltaic capacity, and throughout the year of 2018, utility-scale solar power generated 66.6 TWh, which is equivalent to 1.66% of total U.S. electricity. Additionally, in 2016, 39% of all new electricity generation capacity in the country came from solar, and this percentage was much more than any other source and ahead of natural gas (29%). Because of all of this, the United States was ranked 2nd in the world behind China in terms of total cumulative installed capacity.
In terms of employment, solar had overtaken oil and gas as well as coal employment by 2015. And in 2016, more than 260,000 Americans were employed in the solar industry. In fact, according to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, solar jobs have increased by nearly 160% since 2010, which is nine times the national average job growth rate in the last five years.
The United States has conducted research in photovoltaics (PV) and concentrated solar power (CSP) for many years now. The country is one of the top countries in the world that makes use of the sun as a source of electricity, and several of the world’s largest utility-scale installations are located in there too, particularly in the desert in the Southwest. The oldest solar power plant in the world is the 354-ME SEGS thermal power plant in California. Other solar power plants in the United States include the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (a 392 solar thermal power project in the California Mojave Desert), and Solana Generating Station (a 280 MW solar power plant near Gila Bend, Arizona). When commissioned, Solar Generating Station was the largest parabolic trough plant in the world and the first U.S. solar plant with molten salt thermal energy storage.
As of right now, there are still more plans to build many other large solar plants in the United States. To begin with, many states have set individual renewable energy goals with solar power being included in various proportions. Additionally, Hawaii has planned to be 100% renewable-sourced electricity by 2045, and Governor Jerry Brown has signed legislation requiring California’s utilities to obtain 100% of their electricity from zero-carbon sources by the end of 2045 (including 60% renewable energy sources by 2030).
Currently, solar power has already become prevalent in the United States than ever before. Since 2008, U.S. installations have grown 35-fold to an estimated 62.5 GW today. This number is enough capacity to power the equivalent of 12 million average American homes. And in addition to that, solar power has also become more affordable and accessible. Since the beginning of 2014, the average cost of solar photovoltaic panels has dropped nearly 50%.
The Solar Potential
According to a 1998 report by the United States Department of Energy, it has been discovered that available domestic solar energy, including biomass, was technically accessible regardless of cost amounted to 586,687 Quadrillion BTUs (Quads). Of that number, 95% was biomass. Coal represented the second largest resource, with 38,147 Quads. Predictions of how much solar power was economically possible to collect added up to 352 quads, compared with 5,266 quads from coal.
All the estimations that were used in the report were based on a prediction that the price of a barrel oil would become $38 in 2010. Additionally, they were also based on multiplied annual renewable resources by 30 for comparison with non-renewable resources. In 2007, the total annual energy consumption of the United States was about 100 Quads, which was less than 0.5% of what is theoretically available from sunlight.
Moreover, in 2012, a report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) described the technically available renewable energy resources for each state. In addition to that, the report estimated that urban utility-scale photovoltaics could supply 2,232 TWh per year, rural utility-scale PV 280,613 TWh per year, rooftop PV 818 TWh per year, and CSP 116,146 TWh per year. All these amounted for a total of almost 400,000 TWh per year, which was 100 times the current consumption of 3,856 TWh in 2011. For comparison, at the time, onshore wind potential was estimated at 32,784 TWh per year, offshore wind at 16,976 TWh per year, and the total available from all renewable resources was estimated at 481,963 TWh per year.
The Growth of Solar in the United States
Solar energy deployment increased at a record pace all over the world in 2008. But the growth was particularly noticeable in the United States. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association’s “2008 U.S. Solar Industry Year in Review,” it was discovered that U.S. solar energy capacity reached the total equivalent of 8,775 megawatts (MW) in 2007, which means that it increased by 17%. Additionally, the SEIA report tallied all types of solar energy, and in that year, the United States installed 342 MW of solar photovoltaic (PV) electric power, 139 thermal megawatts (MWth) of solar water heating, 762 MWth of pool heating, and 21 MWth of solar space heating and cooling.
Additionally, in 2008, a report by research and publishing firm Clean Edge and the nonprofit Co-op America discovered that solar power’s contribution could grow to 10% of the nation’s power needs by 2025. About 2% of this would come from concentrating solar power systems while 8% would be from solar photovoltaic systems. These figures correlated to about 500,000 MW of solar PV systems and more than 6,600 MW of concentrating solar power.
The report by Clean Edge and Co-op America also noted that the cost per kilowatt-hour of solar PV systems has been dropping while the electricity generated from fossil fuels is constantly becoming more expensive. Because of this, the report hypothesized that solar power will reach cost parity with conventional power sources in many U.S. markets by 2015. In order to reach the 10% goal, solar PV companies would have to make solar power a “plug-and-play technology,” or simplify the deployment of solar systems. In this same report, the importance of the future “smart grid” technologies has also been emphasized.
According to a study published in 2011 by the SEIA and GTM Research, 878 MW of PV capacity and 78 MW of CSP were installed in the U.S. in 2010, which was enough to power about 200,000 homes. Additionally, more than 65,000 homes and businesses added solar water heating (SWH) or solar pool heating (SPH) systems. This was double the 435 MW that was installed in 2009 around the country.
Also in 2011, Kelton Research conducted a study where it was discovered that 9 out of 10 Americans support the use and development of solar technology. Eight of these 10 respondents opined that the federal government should support solar manufacturing in the United States and should give federal subsidies for solar energy. The Energy Information Administration reported that in the fiscal year 2013, federal supports and subsidies for solar power amounted to $4.4 billion, which was over 27% of all federal supports and subsidies for electricity production. This figure does not include state and local spending.
SEIA and GTM Research further discovered that the amount of new solar electric capacity increased in 2012 by 76% from 2011, thus raising the United States’ market share of the world’s installations above 10% — which was up from roughly 5 to 7% in the last seven years. Moreover, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, utility-scale solar had sent 12,303 GWh of electricity to the U.S. grid as of September 2014. This was an increase of over 100% versus the same period in 2013, which was 6,048 GWh.
The number of homes with solar systems installed has also been increasing rapidly. To be more specific, there were about 30,000 installations in 2006, and by 2016, there have been 1.3 million already. A study by the U.S. Department of Energy has predicted that the figure could reach 3.8 million homes by 2020.
The number of home solar installations is not the only thing that has been increasing. The number of solar jobs has also grown tremendously. According to the Solar Foundation, solar jobs have increased by nearly 160% since 2010, which nine times the national average job growth in the last five years. As of right now, there are more than 242,000 solar workers in the United States, with manufacturing being the second largest sector in the solar industry.
Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) in the United States
Concentrated solar power (CSP), also known as concentrating solar power and concentrated solar thermal, technologies generate solar power by using mirrors to reflect and concentrate sunlight onto a single point where it is collected and converted into heat. This kind of solar technology is generally used for utility-scale projects.
The mirrors in CSP plants focus sunlight onto a receiver that heats a high-temperature fluid, which is then used to spin a turbine or power an engine that drives a generator. The final product of this whole process is electricity.
One of the first applications of CSP was the 6 hp solar-powered motor that was made by H.E. Willsie and John Boyle in 1904.
Another early solar pioneer of the 19th and 20th centuries, Frank Shuman, constructed a demonstration plant that used solar power to pump water by using an array of mirrors in a trough to generate steam. Located in Philadelphia, the solar water pump station was able to pump 3000 gallons an hour (25 hp) at that latitude. The plant was tested for seven weeks, and after that, it was disassembled and shipped to Egypt for testing as an irrigation plant.
In 1973, Karl Böer of the University of Delaware constructed an experimental house that he called the Solar One. The Solar One was the first house to convert sunlight into energy.
Another project that was called Solar One — which was part of the SOLAR Project in the Mojave Desert — was the first pilot solar power tower, and it was completed in 1981. Aside from that, the parabolic trough Solar Energy Generating Systems opened its first unit in 1984, and it was the first major solar thermal plant in the whole world.
Solar Thermal Power Stations in the United States
The United States is a pioneer when it comes to solar tower and trough technologies. As of right now, the country has several solar thermal power stations scattered all around. The following are only some of the most popular solar thermal power stations in the United States.
- Ivanpah Solar Power Facility. The Ivanpah Solar Power Facility is the largest solar thermal power plant in the world, with an installed capacity of 392 MW. This plant is located in California, and it deploys 173,500 heliostats each with two mirrors focusing solar energy on boilers located on centralized solar power towers. The facility officially opened on February 13, 2014.
- Solana Generating Station. With a name that is derived from the Spanish term for “sunny spot,” the Solana Generating Station is a solar power plant located near Gila Bend, Arizona, which is about 70 miles southwest of Phoenix. It was completed in 2013, and when commissioned, it was the largest parabolic trough plant in the world. It was also the first U.S. solar plant with molten salt thermal energy storage. This solar plant was built by the Spanish company Abengoa Solar, and it has a total capacity of 280 MW, which is enough to power 70,000 homes while avoiding around 475,000 tons of carbon dioxide.
- Martin Next Generation Solar Energy Center. The Martin Next Generation Solar Energy Center is a hybrid 75 MW parabolic trough solar energy plant that is owned by Florida Power and Light Company. This solar plant is a component of the 3,705 MW Martin County Power Plant, which is currently the single largest fossil fuel burning power in the United States. This was completed at the end of 2010, and it is located in western Martin County, Florida.
- Mojave Solar Project. The Mojave Solar Project is a 280 MW solar thermal power facility located in the Mojave Desert in California. This was completed in December 2014.
- Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project. The Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project is a 110 MW solar thermal power project near Tonopah, about 230 miles northwest of Las Vegas. This plant was completed in September 2015.
Because of the rapidly falling price of PV solar, several solar thermal projects were either being converted or converted to PV technology. For example, the Blythe Solar Power Project was converted to a PV project while the Rice Solar Energy Project was put on indefinite.
Furthermore, the Palen Solar Project tried to convert to PV, but its permits were denied, and the Hidden Hills Solar Project was suspended in 2013 and was later canceled. As of right now, there are no more major CSP plants that remain under construction in the United States.
CSP Capacity and Generation
Abengoa’s 280 MWac of CSP project was brought online in the third quarter, and Genesis Solar’s first phase of 125 MWac was brought online in the fourth quarter of 2013. This would bring to a total of 410 MWac for the year and 918 MWac all in all. During the first quarter of 2014, Ivanpah was already completed, and with its installed capacity of 392 MWac, the total capacity is now 1310 MWac.
Then during February, the 110 MWac Crescent Dunes project started commissioning, while the 250 MWac Mojave solar, the second phase 125 MWac Genesis Solar, and the 1.5MWac Tooele Army Depot Solar were all expected to come online in 2014. A total of around 9.5 GW of solar PV and CSP capacity was expected to come online in 2016, which was more than any other source.
Solar Photovoltaics (PV)
Photovoltaics (PV) is the conversion of light into electricity through the use of semiconducting materials that exhibit the photovoltaic effect, which is the creation of voltage and electric current in a material upon exposure to light.
With that said, a photovoltaic system then employs solar modules, each comprising a number of solar cells, which generate electrical power. PV installations may be ground-mounted, rooftop mounted, wall-mounted, or floating. Additionally, the mount may be fixed or may use a solar tracker to follow the sun across the sky.
Solar Manufacturers in the United States
During late September 2008, Sanyo Electric Company Ltd. announced their decision to build a manufacturing plant for solar ingots and wafers in Salem, Oregon. The plant was scheduled to start operating in October 2009 and to reach its full production capacity of 70 MW of solar wafers per year by April 2010. However, in April 2013, the plant closed its wafer slicing operation, and in February 2016, the parent company, Panasonic, announced that they would lay off 37% of the remaining workforce.
In early October 2008, First Solar Inc. broke ground on an expansion of their own plant in Perrysburg, Ohio, and they planned to add enough capacity to produce another 57 MW per year of solar modules at the facility. This would bring the plant’s total capacity to roughly 192 MW per year. In November 2016, the company reduced the workforce in the Perrysburg plant by 20% as part of a worldwide restructuring.
In mid-October 2008, SolarWorld AG opened a manufacturing plant in Hillsboro, Oregon. By 2016, the Hillsboro plant was the largest photovoltaic technology manufacturing plant in the Western Hemisphere. As of right now, the plant maintains 500 MW of cell-manufacturing capacity and 350 MW of module-assembly capacity.
The rapidly decreasing PV prices caused General Electric’s planned factory in Colorado to be put on hold. This phenomenon also caused Konarka Technologies to go bankrupt, despite the fact that the company had expected to produce 1,000 MW of solar modules per year by 2011. The company Solyndra, which defaulted on a $535 million loan guarantee, also suffered a bankruptcy, thus prompting Republican members of the Energy and Commerce Committee to vote to cease accepting new applications to the loan program.
HeliVolt Corporation opened a manufacturing facility in Austin, Texas that would have an initial capacity to produce 20 MW of solar cells per year. The company also employs a proprietary “printing” process to produce solar cells that consist of thin films of copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS). This technology won an R&D 100 Award in 2008 as well as earned an Editor’s Choice Award for Most Revolutionary Technology. HelioVolt’s “FASST” reactive transfer printing process is about 10 to 100 times faster than other CIGS production processes and can also be combined with vacuum evaporation or ultrasonic spray deposition techniques. With their new manufacturing plant in Austin, HelioVolt plants produce both solar modules and next-generation building-integrated solar products using its FASST process.
In September 2014, SolarCity broke ground on a solar panel manufacturing plant in Buffalo, New York. Upon the plant’s completion in 2016, it is predicted that it will be the largest solar manufacturing facility in the Western hemisphere, with an annual manufacturing capacity of 1 GW.
In the year 2012, the U.S. Department of Commerce placed a 31% tariff on solar cells that are made in China. In 2018, the government placed a 30% tariff on all imported solar equipment.
Selected Solar Manufacturers in the United States
The United States have their own share of manufacturers and wholesalers of solar equipment. The following are some of the most popular ones.
- Auxin Solar. Founded in 2008, Auxin Solar is an American manufacturing company that focuses on solar panels, solar mounting rack systems, and a system developer of solar power plants.
- Heliene. Heliene is the result of an alliance between Helios Energy Europe and a group of leading North American entrepreneurs. The company is committed to research and development as well as the manufacturing of high-strength, premium quality solar modules and delivers them to all over the world.
- Mission Solar Energy. Based in San Antonio, Texas, Mission Solar Energy is a photovoltaic solar module company that designs, engineers, and assembles high-quality solar modules.
- Seraphim Solar U.S.A. Seraphim Solar U.S.A. is a U.S.-owned subsidiary of Seraphim Energy Group, which is based in China. The company manufactures PV modules that serve the residential, commercial, industrial, utility, government, and military markets.
- Silfab Solar. With over 35 years of experience, Silfab Solar designs and develops ultra-high-efficiency, premium-quality 60- and 72-cell monocrystalline PV modules.
- Solaria. Established in 2000, Solaria has over 65 issued and pending patents encompassing materials, processes, applications, products, manufacturing automation, and equipment.
Large-Scale PV Facilities in the United States
In addition to having CSP power plants, the United States also has large-scale photovoltaic power plants. These power plants often consist of two or more units which correspond to construction stages and/or technology-improvement phases of a particular development project. As of 2018, the following are the ten largest operating plants in the United States, based on development grouping and total AC power capacity.
- Solar Star. The 579 MWac Solar Star plant (Units I and II) in California was the world’s largest photovoltaic power station at the time when it was completed in 2015. However, that title was soon taken over by the Longyangxia Dam Solar Park in China.
- Copper Mountain Solar Facility. The Copper Mountain Solar Facility is a 552 MWac solar power plant in Eldorado Valley, Nevada, and it consists of four units. The first unit was completed in 2010 while the latest came online in late 2016.
- Topaz Solar Farm. The Topaz Solar Farm is a 550 MWac photovoltaic power plant near San Luis Obispo County, California. It has been fully operational since November 2014.
- Desert Sunlight Solar Farm. Completed in January 2015, the Desert Sunlight Solar Farm is a 550 MWac solar power station that is located in the Sonoran Desert of California.
- Mount Signal Solar. The 460 MWac Mount Signal Solar came online in 2018, and it already reached its current capacity. The project is reported to reach 600 MW when unit II will be completed around 2020.
- Mesquite Solar Project. The 400 MWac Mesquite Solar project in Arizona is made up of three units at the end of 2016. The project is still being expanded as of right now.
- Agua Caliente Solar Project. The Agua Caliente Solar Project is a 290 MWac facility in Yuma County, Arizona that has been operating at full capacity since April 2014.
- California Flats Solar Project. The California Flats Solar Project is located in Monterey County, California, and it reached a capacity of 280 MWac when the second unit came online at the end of 2018.
- Springbok Solar Farm. The Springbok Solar Farm is a 260 MWac facility located in Kern County, California. Two units have already been completed, and the solar farm is expected to reach 350 MW with the completion of the third unit in 2019.
- At 250 MWac each, there are five plants: namely, McCoy Solar Energy Project, Silver State South Solar Project, California Valley Solar Ranch, Desert Stateline Solar Facility, and Moapa Southern Paiute Solar Project.
Distributed Generation in the United States
Residential and Non-Residential Installations
Within the cumulative PV capacity in the United States, there has been growth in the distributed generation segment, which is all grid-connected PV installations in the residential and non-residential markets. The non-residential market includes installations on commercial, government, school, and non-profit organization properties.
Between 2000 and 2013, there had been 2,261 MW of residential solar and 4,051 MW non-residential solar installed. In 2013 alone, there were 1,913 MW installed for these markets, and the top five states were California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Hawaii, and Arizona. Moreover, the residential market had a 60% annual growth in 2013, and the contributing factors to this growth were new marketing strategies to partner with retailers to reach more customers and new financial models, including the securitization of residential solar assets. In 2011, a 115-kilowatt system was unveiled in Southern California, and at the time, it was one of the largest residential solar projects.
Aside from that, non-residential PV had a slight growth of 4% in 2013 as the market was recovering from the oversupply in 2012. One of the largest rooftop installations for commercial properties was the 9 MW system of Holt Logistics refrigerated warehouse at the Gloucester Marine Terminal in New Jersey. For non-residential PV, future growth will most likely come from New York, Arizona, and Colorado.
School and Commercial Installations
By November 2017, there were about 5,500 schools in the United States that had solar installations, and the total capacity had been 910 MW. The top five states were Nevada, California, Hawaii, Arizona, and New Jersey with 23.10%, 14.50%, 14.50%, 14.10%, and 13% of the number of schools that had installations respectively. One of the large-scale PV installations in schools was the solar project on the San Diego Unified School District with a total of 48 sites and aggregated installed capacity of 9.17 MW.
Then by April 2018, there was a total capacity of 2,562 MW of commercial solar installations from more than 4,000 companies. As of right now, the top five corporations who have gone big on solar are Apple, Amazon, Target Walmart, and Switch. Other companies that have gone big on solar include Google, Kaiser Permanente, Prologis, Solvay, and Fifth Third Bank.
Solar PV Capacity and Generation
In the United States, 14,626 MW of PV was installed in 2016, which was a 95% increase from 2015 (7,493 MW). In that same year as well, 22 states added at least 100 MW of capacity.
The amount of electricity a unit is capable of producing over an extended period of time is determined by multiplying the capacity by the capacity factor. The capacity factor for solar photovoltaic units is primarily a function of climate and latitude.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has calculated that the highest statewide average solar voltaic capacity factors are in Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada (each 26.3%), and the lowest is Alaska (10.5%). The lowest statewide average capacity factor in the contiguous 48 states is in West Virginia (17.2%).
The United States had about 440 MW of off-grid photovoltaics as of the end of 2010. In fact, through the end of 2005, a majority of photovoltaics in the United States was off-grid.
United States Government Support
A complete list of incentives can be found at the Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy (DSIRE). A lot of solar power systems are grid-connected and use net metering laws to allow the use of electricity in the evening that was generated during the daytime. New Jersey is the state with the least restrictive net metering law while California is the one that has the most number of homes that have solar panels installed.
Many were installed because of the million solar roofs initiative, which entails a vision introduced back in 2007 where solar PV panels are to be installed on an additional million rooftops of home or businesses in the state of California by 2018.
In some states, like Florida, solar power is subject to legal restrictions that discourage its use.
Federal Tax Credit
The federal tax credit for solar was extended for eight years as part of the financial bailout bill, H.R. 1424, until the end of 2016. It was predicted that this will create about 440,000 jobs and 28 GW of solar power. Additionally, it was also predicted that this will lead to a $300 billion market for solar panels. This prediction did not take into account the removal of the $2,000 cap on residential tax credits at the end of 2008.
Moreover, a 30% tax credit is available for residential and commercial installations. For 2009 through 2011, this was a 30% grant instead of a tax credit, and at the time, it was known as the 1603 grant program.
The federal Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit, an income tax credit on IRS Form 5695, for residential PV and solar thermal was extended in December 2015 to remain at 30% of system cost (parts and installations) for systems that are put into service by the end of 2019, then 26% until the end of 2020, and then 22% until the end of 2021. This applies to a taxpayer’s principal and/or second residences, but this can’t be applied to a property that is rented out. There is no maximum cap on the credit, and the credit can be applied toward the Alternative Minimum Tax. Any excess credit (greater than that year’s tax liability) can be rolled into the following year.
The solar industry and utilities clashed extensively on renewal, but the solar industry won. The renewal is expected to add $38 billion of investment for 20 GW of solar.
Section 1603 Grants
President Barack Obama’s stimulus bill in 2009 created a program known as Section 1603 grants. This program was designed so as to give federal grants to solar companies for 30% of investments into solar energy. Since 2009, the federal government has given solar companies $25 billion in grant money through this program. However, the Section 1603 grant program expired in 2011.
The United States Treasury Department has been investigating solar companies for potential fraud since 2013. The department promised a report by June 2015, but the report had not been released as of 2016.
Solar America Initiative
The United States Department of Energy (DOE) announced on September 29, 2008, that it will invest $17.6 million, subject to annual appropriations, in six company-led, early-stage PV projects under the Solar America Initiative’s “PV Incubator” funding opportunity. The PV Incubator project is designed to fund prototype PV components and systems with the goal of moving them through the commercialization process by 2010. The 2008 award is the second funding opportunity released under the PV Incubator project. With the cost-share from the industry, which is at least 20%, up to $35.4 million would be invested in these projects. These projects would run for 18 months and are subcontracted through DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
Most of the projects were to receive up to $3 million in funding, except Solasta and Spire Semiconductor which would receive up to $2.6 million and $2.97 million, respectively. Some of the projects under this initiative include:
- Massachusetts-based 1366 Technologies developing a new cell architecture for low-cost, multi-crystalline silicon cells, which will enhance cell performance through improved light-trapping texturing and grooves for self-aligned metallization fingers
- California’s Innovalight using ink-jet printing to transfer their “silicon ink” onto thin-crystalline silicon wafers so as to produce high-efficiency and low-cost solar cells and modules
- Skyline Solar, also in California, developing an integrated, lightweight, and single-axis tracked system that reflects and concentrates sunlight over 10 times onto silicon cells
- Solasta, in Massachusetts, working on a novel cell design that increases currents and lowers materials cost
- Solexel, another California-based company, commercializing a disruptive, 3D high-efficiency monocrystalline silicon cell technology that dramatically reduces manufacturing cost per watt
- Spire Semiconductor in New Hampshire developing three-junction tandem solar cells that better optimize the optical properties of their device layers. This company is targeting cell efficiencies over 42% using a low-cost manufacturing method.
The PV Incubator project is part of the Solar America Initiative (SAI), which plans to make solar energy cost-competitive with conventional forms of electricity by 2015 (grid parity).
The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technology Program (SETP) will achieve the goals of the SAI through partnerships and strategic alliances by focusing mainly on four areas. These are:
- Market Transformation: activities that address marketplace barriers and offer the chance for market expansion
- Device and Process Proof of Concept: R&D activities addressing novel devices or processes with a potentially significant performance or cost advantages
- Component Prototype and Pilot-Scale Production: R&D activities emphasizing the development of prototype PV components or systems that are produced at pilot-scale with demonstrated cost, reliability, or performance advantages
- System Development and Manufacturing: collaborative R&D activities among industry and university partners to develop and improve solar energy technologies
Another thing that is a part of the Solar America Initiative is the Solar America Showcase. For this activity, preference is given to large-scale, highly visible, and highly replicable installations that involve cutting-edge solar technologies or novel applications of solar.
Announced by the Department of Energy in 2011, the SunShot Initiative aims to reduce the cost of solar power by 75% from 2010 to 2020. In great detail, this initiative’s goals are as follows:
- Residential system prices reduced from $6/W to $1.50/W
- Commercial system prices reduced from $5/W to $1.25/W
- Utility-scale system prices reduced from $4/W to $1/W (CSP, CPV, and PV)
Additionally, the Department of Energy announced a $29 million investment in four projects that would help advance affordable and reliable clean energy for American families and businesses. The $29 million would be separated into two investments:
- $21 million investment over five years to design plug-and-play PV systems that can be purchased, installed, and operational in one day
- $8 million investment in two projects to help utilities and grid operators better forecast when, where, and how much solar power will be produced at U.S. solar energy plants
Other projects under the SunShot Initiative are the following:
- Fraunhofer USA’s Center for Sustainable Energy Systems in Cambridge, Massachusetts developing PV technologies that allow homeowners to easily select the right solar system for their house and install, wire and connect to the grid
- North Carolina State University leading a project to create standard PV components and system designs that can adapt simply to any residential roof and can be installed and connected to the grid quickly and efficiently
- IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Armonk, New York leading a new project based on the Watson computer system that uses big data processing and self-adjusting algorithms to integrate different prediction models and learning technologies
All these projects are working with the Department of Energy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association to improve the accuracy of solar forecasts and share the results of this work with industry and academia.
State and Local
There have been numerous instances throughout the years that showcase the efforts that state and local government officials have undergone to make solar possible. The following are the most well-known of these instances:
- Governor Jerry Brown has signed legislation requiring California’s utilities to get 50% of their electricity from renewable energy sources by the end of 2030.
- The San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed solar incentives of up to $6,000 for homeowners and up to $10,000 for businesses. Applications for the program started on July 1, 2008. In April 2016, they passed a law that requires all new buildings below 10 stories to have rooftop solar panels. This made San Francisco the first major U.S. city to do so.
- In 2008, Berkeley initiated a revolutionary pilot program where homeowners are able to add the cost of solar panels to their property tax assessment and pay for them out of their electricity cost savings. In 2009, over a dozen states passed legislation allowing property tax financing. All in all, 27 states offer loans for solar projects.
- The California Solar Initiative has set a goal to create 3,000 MW of new, solar-produced electricity by 2016.
- New Hampshire has a $3,750 residential rebate program for up to 50% of system cost for systems less than 5 kWp ($6,000 from July 1, 2008, until 2010).
- Louisiana has a 50% tax credit up to $12,500 for the installation of a wind or solar system.
- New Jersey law provides new solar power installations with exemptions from the 7% state sales tax and from any increase in property assessment (local property tax increases), subject to certain registration requirements.
According to experience, a feed-in tariff is both the least expensive and the most effective means of developing solar power. This is because investors need certainty, and a feed-in tariff definitely gives them that.
California enacted a feed-in tariff that began on February 14, 2008, while Washington has a feed-in tariff of 15¢/kWh which increases to 54¢/kWh if components are manufactured in the state. Hawaii, Michigan, and Vermont also have feed-in tariffs.
In 2010, the Federal Energy Regulatory (FERC) ruled that states were able to implement above-market feed-in tariffs for specific technologies.
Solar Renewable Energy Certificates
In recent years, states that have passed the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) or the Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) laws have relied on the use of solar renewable energy certificates (SRECs) to meet state requirements. They have achieved this by adding a specific solar carve-out to the state RPS. The first SREC program was implemented in 2005 by New Jersey. Soon enough, this program has expanded to several other states, including Maryland, Delaware, Ohio, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania.
SREC offers many advantages, but one of its major problems is the lack of certainty for investors. A feed-in tariff provides a known return on investment, but an SREC program provides only a possible return of investment.
Power Purchase Agreement
In 2006, investors started offering free solar panel installation in return for a 25-year contract. They also began offering a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA), which is a contract between two parties — one which generates electricity (the seller) and one which is looking to purchase electricity (the buyer).
By 2009, over 90% of commercial PV installed in the United States were installed using a PPA. About 90% of the PV installed in the United States is in states that specifically address PPAs.
New Construction Mandates
In March 2013, Lancaster California became the first U.S. city to mandate the inclusion of solar panels on new homes, requiring that every new housing development must average 1 kW per house.
The Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) Financing is a means of financing energy efficiency upgrades, disaster resiliency improvements, water conservation measures, or renewable energy installations of residential, commercial, and industrial property owners. This innovative financing arrangement lends money to a homeowner for a solar system, to be repaid via an additional tax assessment on the property for 20 years. This kind of financing arrangement allows the installation of the solar system at “relatively little up-front cost to the property owner.”
The principal feature of this program is that the balance of the loan is transferred to the new owners in the event the property is sold, and the loan is paid for entirely through electric bill savings. Unlike a mortgage loan, no funds are transferred when the property is sold — only the repayment obligation is transferred.
PACE programs are currently operating in eight states, California, Colorado, Florida, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, New York, and Wisconsin. Additionally, they are on hold in many other states.
Current Status of Solar Power in the United States
Published on June 2019, the report from the Solar Energy Industries Association and Wood Mackenzie Power and Renewables, a market research group, have discovered that the first quarter of 2019 was the strongest in the U.S. solar industry’s history. A total of 2.7 GW of solar capacity was added to the grid at this time.
Aside from that, new solar installations should grow 25% from 2018, thus amounting to 13.3 GW. This bounceback — after solar installations dipped 2% last year — was driven by larger-scale utility solar projects, which account for 61% of the first quarter’s growth.
This development is a remarkable change from what was expected last year when President Trump announced that he was putting tariffs on imported solar cells and modules. During this time, the industry was worried that the tariffs would hinder solar. However, solar installations shot past the 2-million mark this year instead.
Moreover, the industry expects this growth to continue well past 2019. A number of U.S. utilities have solar projects in the works, and they should be a reality by 2024. And both residential and non-residential solar markets have grown tremendously over the years. Overall, solar power in the United States is currently on an uphill climb.
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Last month we reported that residential electricity rates were on the rise after a recent decline. The latest numbersout from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) confirms that this upward trend is continuing.
The March 2010 numbers show that the average residential electricityrates were 11.20 cents per kilowatt-hour compared with 10.93 cents per kwh in February 2010. This represents a month-over-month increase of2.4 percent which means rates have risen a total of 6.1 percent inFebruary and March alone.
On the solar front, the EIA reported that the total of solarelectricity generation in the U.S. in March 2010 was 64,000megawatt-hours, which is a decrease of 9.4 percent from March 2009. Thegreatest contributors to this number were California with 69 percent of the solar energy generation, Nevada with 20 percent, and Florida with 6 percent of the total. Because the majority of the solarelectricity is generated at a handful of plants throughout the country,weather, maintenance, and repairs that affect just one plant can resultin significant decrease in the total production numbers.
Wind is definitely carrying the torch for renewable generation atthis point. The latest numbers show that generation from wind was up18.1 percent in March 2010 compared with 2009 numbers.
On the non-renewable side, the EIA reports that coal-fired generation increased 6.6 percent from March 2009 to March 2010. This marks thethird consecutive month that coal-fired generation was higher than ithad been in the same calendar month in the prior year. An increase incoal-fired electricity generation in Illinois, Texas, Georgia, Ohio, and Alabama accounted for 62.6 percent of the national increase. TheEIA also reports that nuclear generation declined 3.9 percent, naturalgas electricity generation was down 7.9 percent, and generation fromconventional hydroelectric sources decreased 5.2 percent. This biggestdrop in electricity production was from liquid petroleum, which wasdown 38.2 percent.
Rikki Suarez majors in Creative Writing and loves writing about renewable energy, clean technology, and solar power.