Back in 1978, oil was king, seasonal weather was predictable, and the sun’s energy was used primarily for tanning and agriculture. In the 35-plus years since, CO2 emissions from burning oil as a fuel have contributed disastrously to climate change, which has played havoc with seasonal weather. Today, however, the sun’s energy is being harnessed to power more than 4 million American homes.
Solar energy as a source of residential, commercial and utility electricity has grown into an expanding international industry. As a homeowner, you are looking to reduce your operating costs and perhaps save a little bit of the planet, too. Solar energy offers you the opportunity to do both at the same time.
Solar energy prices continue to decline
Constant innovation in photovoltaic (PV) cell construction and manufacturing has increased cell efficiency exponentially. In 1977, the cost per watt of silicon (PV) cells was $76. By 2014, that had dropped to less than $0.36, making the purchase of a solar power array infinitely more affordable. At the same time, energy storage capacity was growing, allowing more solar energy to be stored for use at a later time. In just the past four years, the cost of lithium batteries for solar power storage dropped 5 percent; it is expected to drop another 50 percent by 2020. These innovations make it easier and less expensive than ever for you to install high-efficiency solar panels and capture and store that energy for use around the clock.
Like many Americans, you may have “seen the light” about the benefits of solar energy, for both your personal choices and perhaps in your larger, corporate applications. The improvements in solar PV cell construction translate into higher conversion (light to electricity) rates in cells, making them more efficient. More efficient cells create more electricity, which reduces the number of cells needed to power any one installation. And fewer cells mean less money. More efficient cells also facilitate greater power capacity from smaller arrays (more power without increasing cost). So installing a solar power system can significantly reduce or even eliminate your home energy bill.
Solar installations are increasing
For commercial and government applications, the environmental impact of solar is even more significant. In 2014 in California, the solar PV capacity installed by utilities, commercial ventures and residences exceeded 3,540 megawatts (MW), with almost 75% of that installed by utilities. That year, North Carolina and Nevada also installed hundreds of MW capacity (397 and 339, respectively) just for utility use. Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York also increased their total PV installations by 308, 240 and 147 respectively, across all three categories.
In fact, 2014 was a banner year for the solar industry in many respects. The 2014 US Solar Market Insight Report, released by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and GTM Research indicated that solar energy production in the U.S. exceeded expectations across a number of factors:
Solar accounted for 32 percent of the nation’s new electricity generating capacity, beating both wind energy and coal, for the second year in a row
The U.S. installed 6,201 MW of solar PV, 30% more than was installed in 2013
Solar provided approximately one-third of all new electric generating capacity in the US
More than one-third of all cumulative solar PV operating capacity came online, reducing the use of fossil fuels
For the first time, more than 500 MW came online in residential use without any government incentives driving the activity
By the end of 2014, more than 20 states had passed the 100MW mark for cumulative operating solar PV, and California achieved 8.7 gigawatts (GW)
The utility market alone installed more than 1.5 GW in just the fourth quarter of 2014
All solar projects (electric and heat) completed in 2014 represented $17.8 billion in investment.
The solar boom was good news for the U.S. economy as well. The 2014 U.S. solar energy industry had more than 174,000 employees, an increase of 22 percent in the number of solar workers over 2013. Eight thousand commercial solar businesses employ those workers across all 50 states, which represented an investment of more than $17.8 billion in the U.S. economy in 2014 alone.
The future will see more growth in solar energy
By all standards, the forecast for the future of the solar industry is equally bright. The 2014 report predicts that 2015 will see an increase of total GW in the country to exceed 8 GW, more than 30 percent over the growth of 2014. More than 16 states are predicted to top the 100 MW capacity mark by the end of 2016. And the SEIA predicts that more than 20,000 MW of solar capacity is expected to come online by then as well. The federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) is responsible, at least in part, for the current run on solar investing. The nine-year-old tax incentive spurred investment in solar energy that created enough voltage to power an estimated four million homes, and reduced carbon emissions by 20 million metric tons a year. That incentive, however, is set to expire at the end of 2016 if Congress doesn’t act to extend it.
Your concerns about the environment are understandable. Your desire to reduce your cost of living while reducing your impact on the environment is laudable. The evolution of the solar PV industry from 1975 to 2014 lets you achieve both with the single installation of a state-of-the-art solar power system.
RGS Energy has almost 40 years of experience in installing solar energy systems throughout the country, in a wide variety of settings. To find out how solar energy could power your home, visit www.RGSEnergy.com