US solar jumps 30% to have record year

Ilario D'Amato
Reading time: 5 minutes
11 March 2015

NEW YORK: Last year saw the largest ever capacity for photovoltaic (PV) installations in the US, a new report states.

GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association’s U.S. Solar Market Insight 2014 Year in Review report shows solar power is continuing to break all records in the US. Newly installed solar PV capacity for 2014 reached a record 6,201 megawatts (MW), a 30% increase compared to the 4,776 MW reached in 2013.

“Dramatic solar growth in the US shows how the sector is a fantastic opportunity for investors,” underlines Amy Davidsen, US Executive Director, The Climate Group. “Solar PV has already reached grid parity in some countries, and the continuous drop of PV hardware will make solar power the cheapest source of energy within the next decade.”

“Solar is also creating jobs in the US – with 174,000 new jobs in 2014 and 36,000 more expected by the end of 2015. Solar is one of the best opportunities for business and governments to be at the forefront of the clean revolution. This is why leading companies are committing to use 100% renewable power and joining our RE100 campaign: it makes economic sense.”

US solar revolution

The amount of solar PV installed in 2014 in the US is 12 times the amount installed just five years earlier, the report indicates. At the end of the year, there was a cumulative total of 18.3 gigawatts (GW) of solar PV and another 2.2 GW of concentrating solar power – spread over more than 600,000 homes and businesses.

The dramatic growth in installed capacity was also reflected in the new electricity addition share. Last year, solar accounted for almost a third (32%) of it – second only to natural gas (42%).

Growth is due to three main factors, according to the report. Firstly, the price of PV systems is continuously declining by a yearly average of 10%, attracting many new companies into the market.

This has also driven down costs for the final user. “There’s no end to the cost decline in photovoltaics”, underlined Dr Patrick GraichenCEOAgora Energiewende. In the US, total installation costs for utility and large commercial systems have fallen below US$2.00/W – and are now below 2011 module costs.

Lastly, another important factor for this success is clear policies set by governments, which have allowed businesses to plan long-term low carbon strategies.

However, there is still much room for policy improvements. While residential solar has experienced a rise of 50% each year from 2012, some related policies being developed in the US at the moment could stall growth. The commercial solar is also stagnant at around 1 GW installed each year, so new policies are needed to reinvigorate this sector.

And while about 14 GW of utility-scale solar projects will be completed by this or next year, specific policies will ensure the surging solar sector keeps breaking records.

A global revolution

Importantly, the last few years have seen a dramatic increase of solar capacity all around the world, even when economies were shrinking. In 2013, around 38.4 GW capacity of PV was added globally – with a cumulative figure of almost 138.9 GW installed globally, producing at least 160 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity every year.

“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.”

While global electricity generation from solar power is still less than 1% of the global mix, it remains the world’s energy source with the most staggering potential. Last September, the International Energy Agency released two reports forecasting that the sun could be the world’s largest source of electricity by 2050 – ahead of fossil fuels, wind, hydro and nuclear.

According to these roadmaps, PV could generate up to 16% of the world’s electricity and other solar technologies could provide an additional 11% – saving in total more than 6 billion tons of CO2 per year by 2050. To scale up this clean, stable economically remunerative source of energy, governments at all levels must implement clear and bold policies to support this inevitable shift.

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by Ilario D'Amato

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