The United States has some of the best solar resources in the entire world, and the technology has never been better or more cost-effective than it is right now.
What is Solar Energy
A utility-scale solar power plant can be one of several solar technologies: concentrating solar power (CSP), photovoltaics (PV), or concentrating photovoltaics (CPV). The size of a project and the sale of the electricity generated to wholesale utility buyers, rather than end-use consumers, is what distinguishes utility-scale solar from distributed generation. Utility-scale solar plants provide the benefit of fixed-priced electricity during peak demand periods when electricity from fossil fuels is the most expensive.
Many utility-scale solar designs can also include built-in storage capacity that provides power even when the sun is not shining, like traditional power plants. Utility customers have repeatedly endorsed investments in utility-scale solar plants. Today 528 megawatts (MW) of CSP are in operation across the U.S.
Large photovoltaic plants operate across the country as well, totaling 2,892 MW. And more solar power is on the way: as of Q2 2018, more than 23,000 MW of utility-scale solar power projects are under construction or in advanced development in the U.S., with another 36,000 MW of projects announced.
In 2017, 59% of all solar capacity installed was utility-scale, and this segment is projected to represent two-thirds of all solar capacity installed through 2021. Procurement for new utility-scale projects slowed over the second half of 2017 due to uncertainty surrounding the Section 201 trade case, but the contracted pipeline has begun to increase again in 2018 as developers look to build out projects ahead of Investment Tax Credit declines and at lower module tariff levels.
Solar Energy Fun Facts
Utility-scale solar prices have dropped 86% since 2009.
Solar panel installer and wind turbine technician are the number 1 and 2 fastest-growing professions in the U.S.
More than 373,800 Americans work in solar, with jobs in all 50 states.
Nearly 56 gigawatts of solar are installed in the U.S., enough to power 10.7 million homes.
There are over 1.7 million solar installations in the U.S.
Solar has ranked first or second in new electric capacity additions in each of the last five years.
In the last decade, solar has experienced an average annual growth rate of 59%.
Solar has gone from only 0.1% of total US electricity generation in 2010 to 2% in 2018.
Solar capacity is expected to more than double in the next five years.
Since 2015, the U.S. solar industry has employed more workers than oil, gas, and coal combined.
Benefits of Solar Energy
Solar and the Economy
The U.S. solar industry is booming. With costs continuing to decline and a huge project pipeline, solar power is capturing an ever-increasing share of new U.S. power generation. The industry attracted over $14 billion in private investment in 2017, installing more than 10 GW of new projects. Major U.S. corporations, including Target, Walmart and Apple are installing solar at an incredible rate. As of October 2016, the top 25 corporate solar users in America have installed nearly 1,100 MW of capacity at 2,000 different facilities across the country.
Solar and Jobs
Solar and the Environment
Solar technologies offer numerous environmental benefits, including the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and waste in comparison to fuel-based energy sources. Climate change, sustainability, and recycling are all concerns of the solar industry, which is taking steps to address environmental issues through the lifecycle of solar products.
Solar energy is a renewable, carbon-free resource available within every geographic region of the U.S. and with great potential to significantly reduce our nation’s GHG emissions. Through the first half of 2018, the more than 55,000 MW of cumulative installed solar electric capacity in the U.S. is enough to power more than 10.7 million average American homes and to offset 71 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions.
Solar Energy Policy
Federal Investment Tax Credit
The Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) has provided industry stability and growth since its initial passage in 2006. In the last decade, solar has experienced an average annual growth rate of 59%. Installations surged in 2016 ahead of the potential drop down of the ITC, but an extension in late 2015 has created federal policy stability through 2021. To learn more about the ITC and its impact on the solar industry, click here.
Solar Energy Economics
Solar is Cost-CompetitiveNew utility-scale solar energy projects are now often cost-competitive with new natural gas generation due to continuing technological innovation. According to Lazard, an asset management firm based in New York, new solar projects are often cheaper than coal and natural gas.
Solar costs are continuing to decline
The cost of solar power has declined 86% since 2009, according to Lazard. And as the technology continues to advance, the industry expects costs to further decline in the years ahead. The following chart from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory shows the dramatic drop in solar prices over the last 9 years.
Prices increased over the second half of 2017, due to module price uncertainty in light of the Section 201 Solar Trade Case. However, module prices have flattened in Q1 2018, since announcement of the 30% tariff, but they are still at their highest level since early 2016.