2014 was a boom year for solar

Ilario D'Amato
Reading time: 6 minutes
19 January 2015

LONDON: Solar power is soaring across the globe, with growth most visible in the world’s daily headlines. Last week in particular, news was dominated by achievements the sector collected throughout 2014 – a boom year for solar.

The main news is certainly that in the US alone, there are now about 174,000 jobs linked to solar energy and 36,000 new jobs are expected by the end of this year.

The National Solar Jobs Census 2014 by The Solar Foundation shows the solar industry added more than 31,000 jobs last year, an increase of 21.8%; by comparison, the US businesses added just 1.1% jobs over the same period. That means that one out of every 78 new jobs was created by the solar industry – which is 1.3% of all new jobs. Since 2010, solar employment has created 81,000 new jobs, a rise of 86% in just four years.

Global solar growth

Worldwide, solar energy has continued to grow even when economies were shrinking. By 2013, almost 138.9 gigawatts (GW) of photovoltaic (PV) had been installed globally, states the European Photovoltaic Industry Association in the report Global Market Outlook for Photovoltaics 2014-2018.

Such an amount of energy is capable of producing at least 160 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity every year. Put in other terms, that is the volume of energy necessary to power 45 million European households, or the electricity produced by 32 large coal power plants.

In 2013, around 38.4 GW capacity of PV was added globally, with almost 11 GW from Europe, where no other sources (apart from wind) reached the same level of new installations. “This proves, if need be, that solar photovoltaics is on the way to becoming a major part of the electricity system,” underlines Oliver Schäfer, EPIA President, “delivering clean, safe and affordable energy to the greater number all around the globe.”

Solar attracts funds

Last year was a great year not only for solar jobs and added capacity, but also for the funding of solar energy. Total corporate funding in the sector totaled US$26.5 billion in 2014, a 175% increase year-over-year, states Mercom in its 2014 Solar Q4 and Annual Funding and M&A Report.

As for the global venture capital funding, it totaled more than US$1.3 billion in 2014 – a figure double that of the previous year, when it raised US$612 million. It was also a record year for public market financing, which accounted for about US$5.2 billion in 2014; again nearly doubling the US$2.8 billion from 2013. Large-scale projects also continue to drive the solar revolution with deals announced in 2014 exceeding US$14.2 billion and accounting for 34.4 GW globally.

Indian solar projects

Thanks to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership, India is rapidly shifting toward a low carbon economy. In particular, the government launched a National Solar Mission in 2010 to deploy 20 GW of grid-connected solar power by 2022. However, solar is still less than 1% of its energy mix, even if the country receives double the amount of sunshine than most European nations.

Moreover, millions of people still don’t have access to India’s power grid, especially in rural areas; this is why The Climate Group started the project Bijli – Clean Energy for All, to enhance these people’s lives while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

To sustain solar growth in India, energy company SunEdison and power producer Adani Enterprises announced plans to build India’s largest solar PV modules manufacturing plant over the next three years, with an investment of Rs 25,000 crore (US$4 billion) and 20,000 new jobs for the local economy.

Because solar energy in India costs up to 50% more than power from sources like coal, Ahmad Chatila, President and Chief Executive Officer of SunEdison, said the project aims to “produce electricity so cost effectively it can compete head to head, unsubsidized and without incentives, with fossil fuels.”

Solar-powered homes

It is no surprise large companies are investing in PV production: US home-buyers are willing to pay about US$15,000 more if their new house comes with a solar PV system.

That’s according to the Selling Into the Sun report from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which analyzed data on almost 4,000 PV home transactions across 102 different counties in eight different US states. The report concludes buyers are willing to pay a premium that ranges from US$3 to slightly more than US$4 per week. “Clearly buyers of homes with PV are willing to pay a premium for PV,” state the researchers, “and this trend has continued despite dramatic changes in both the PV and housing markets.

Solar energy systems are now installed on more than 500,000 homes in the US, also thanks to the dramatic decrease in the price of PV modules in the last 10 years.

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by Ilario D'Amato

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