This year, as we head into the holiday season, solar power has become an increasingly large part of our lives. It’s been popping up on rooftops across the U.S. and world as well as in large-scale solar farms for utilities. While still making up a small, small percentage of our nation's power needs, solar energy is likely the quickest growing energy source.
Case in point, sun and wind accounted for 90 percent of all new energy on the grid in October, according to a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission report. And, earlier this week, NPD Solarbuzz reported that the U.S.’s photovoltaic (PV) power project pipeline has expanded to 43 gigawatts. That’s roughly 10 times the amount of PV (4.3 gigawatts) that’s slated to come online this year.
In its monthly “United States Deal Tracker” the solar market research and analysis firm found that the amount of solar projects planned in the U.S. grew by 7 percent. The growth is driven by a number of factors, including the potential end of the 30 percent Investment Tax Credit (ITC). The potential loss of the credit is pushing developers to move solar power projects from early stages to “under-construction” or “installed” status, according to NPD Solarbuzz.
Another factor in the growth is falling prices of solar. “Projects of all sizes have become increasingly viable, due to declines in solar PV system pricing in the past year,” said Michael Barker, senior analyst at NPD Solarbuzz. That’s making solar more affordable for homes and businesses as well.
“With just three years remaining until the full tax credit incentive rate declines, solar PV project developers in the United States are now planning to complete projects, or have a significant portion under construction, prior to the 2017 deadline,” according to Christine Beadle, analyst at NPD Solarbuzz. “This deadline is causing a shift in focus to smaller projects that can be completed on shorter timescales.”
The new findings project that the U.S. will become the third largest market for solar in the world in 2014, behind only Japan and China. Also of note is that Germany will no longer be the largest market for solar.
As the pipeline of U.S. projects increases, the size and scale of projects is changing, too. The U.S. now hosts some of the world’s largest operational PV projects, like the 250 megawatt California Valley Solar Ranch. In fact, the report finds that the 10 largest U.S. solar PV currently in planning or construction phases will add more than 5 gigawatts to the national grid in the next three years.
The future for solar projects—even utility-scale projects—is much different, according to the report. The majority of PV projects being proposed by solar developers is now below 30 megawatts. “During the past 12 months, the number of projects in the U.S. pipeline within this category has increased by 33 percent to more than 2,100 projects. Smaller PV projects have shorter planning phases and can be completed quickly,” NPD Solarbuzz said.
“Large-scale PV projects exceeding 20 megawatts continue to dominate the pipeline, in terms of installed capacity, stimulated by state-based renewable portfolio mandates,” Barker said.
Basically all of this means that solar power is becoming a larger part of our nation's energy source, making it easier for everyone to get clean energy and reduce pollution. Which is, of course, something to be thankful for this season.