By the end of 2016 the US had 21.5 gigawatts of utility-scale solar power online. It’s an impressive capstone for an industry that’s grown at an average rate of 72 percent annually between 2010 and 2016—faster than any other generating source in the US.
Moreover, it’s expected to grow even more. The most recent U.S. Solar Market Insight 2016 Year-in-Review report by GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) said that the amount of solar installed in the US last year it was even higher—14.8 gigawatts of solar power.
Of that 21.5 gigawatts of solar power, 7.6 gigawatts came online last year, according to the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA). That however, excludes small-scale solar generation like rooftop solar for homes and businesses.
The office said that about 3.4 gigawatts of small-scale solar power—including residential, commercial and industrial—was added in 2016. Overall there’s now more than 13.1 gigawatts of small solar in the US, it stated, bringing the total amount of solar installed in the country to more than 34.6 gigawatts.
The EIA reported that utility-scale solar power including photovoltaic and solar thermal plants now makes up about 2 percent of the nation’s utility-scale electric generating capacity and 0.9 percent of utility-scale generation (generators over 1 megawatt in size).
“Most solar generators are considered an intermittent or non-dispatchable resource because their availability depends on ambient insolation (exposure to the sun),” EIA stated, explaining the difference in capacity figures. “Some systems, such as the Crescent Dunes solar thermal plant, are paired with an energy storage system, which allows greater operational flexibility. As monthly capacity factors indicate, solar generation is strongly seasonal, with more sunlight available in the summer (about 30 percent capacity factor on average) than in the winter months (near 15 percent).”
Solar power has had an interesting history in the US. “The first utility-scale solar plants were installed in the mid-1980s, but more than half of the currently operating utility-scale solar capacity came online in the past two years,” EIA said. “Although California has the highest total installed capacity of any state, a number of states have deployed significant utility-scale solar capacity in recent years.”
The EIA said that incentives including renewable portfolio standards, renewable tax credits and the federal 30 percent investment tax credit (ITC), have helped solar power grow. The ITC will phase out through 2022, stepping down over time.Tweet