Solar on the Rise

by Laura Hersch

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            Despite grid integration issues, areability, and a lack of large scale storage, the state of solar energy in the United States is pretty sunny. According to the Department of Energy, the solar industry reached a milestone when one million solar installations became connected to the grid in the beginning of the year. This achievement took a good chunk of time to accomplish but now there are two million installations expected to come on-line by 2018.[1]

At the utility scale, 27 gigawatts (GW) of solar generating capacity will be available in 2017 making utility-scale solar the fastest growing renewable electricity generating source with a 39% average annual growth rate, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported in October 2016.[2] Utility scale projects are commencing construction with Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) being signed for as low as 5 cents per kWh.[3] So how has solar in the U.S. gotten so close to reaching grid parity in such a short amount of time?

The ramp up of solar energy capacity is due largely in part to the solar investment tax credits (ITCs) that were enacted in 2005 under then President George W. Bush. One of the topics that has been pronounced in the news as of late has been the influence the Republican President-elect may have on solar deployment. To this, I point to the free market. It is true – the solar industry has received a huge push from federal policies, but solar is becoming an attractive investment from the residential sector to utility-scale sectors because it makes economic sense. Solar will become inherently more cost competitive as research and development in the private sector spurs innovation though the continued help of federal policies will continue to contribute to solar’s rise.

One federal initiative that is expected to increase solar generation capacity will be the use of public lands for solar energy development. The Department of Interior along with the Bureau of Land Management have carved out and begun development of solar radiation rich areas of the Southwestern portion of the United States for utility-scale solar installation. One such project is the Desert Renewable Energy and Conservation Plan, which is currently in Phase 1 of developing 27 gigawatts of renewable energy generation in the California desert.[4] By using federal lands for solar energy development, the government will continue to support the expansion of solar bringing more economic prosperity to the American people. What do you think the future of solar will be under the incoming Administration?

 

 

[1] Yuan, G. (2016). Collaboration Station: Utility and Solar Company Partnerships Further Solar’s Reach. Retrieved from http://energy.gov/eere/articles/collaboration-station-utility-and-solar-company-partnerships-further-solar-s-reach

[2] U.S. Energy information Administration. (2016). Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO). Retrieved from http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/steo/pdf/steo_full.pdf

[3] Colthorpe, A. (2015, October 1). “Utility-scale solar in the US now averages 5 cents per kilowatt-hour.” PV Tech. Retrieved from http://www.pv-tech.org/news/utility_scale_solar_in_the_us_now_averages_5_cents_a_kilowatt_hour

[4] U.S. Department of Interior. (2016, September 15). Secretary Jewell, State of California Announce Landmark Renewable Energy, Conservation Plan for 10 Million Acres of California Desert. Retrieved from https://www.doi.gov/pressreleases/secretary-jewell-state-california-announce-landmark-renewable-energy-conservation-plan

 

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