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Another Banner, Record-Breaking Year for U.S. Solar

Andrew Burger headshotWords by Andrew Burger
Investment & Markets

A new report shows that 2013 was another banner, record-setting year for solar energy in the U.S., with 4,751 megawatts (MW) of new photovoltaic (PV) capacity installed--a year-over-year increase of 41 percent--with another 410 MW of concentrating solar power (CSP) coming online. A record 2,106 MW of solar power capacity was installed in the fourth quarter alone, amounting to 44 percent of the annual total. That bests the old quarterly record by 60 percent.

As of year-end, there were more than 445,000 solar electric systems generating clean, renewable electrical power in the U.S. That amounts to more than 12,000 MW of PV and 918 MW of CSP capacity–enough for some 2.2 million average U.S. homes, according to the GTM Research-Solar Energy Industry Association's (SEIA) “Solar Market Insight Year in Review 2013.”

Solar accounted for 29 percent of all new electricity generation capacity added in 2013, second only to natural gas, which accounted for 46 percent. In the aggregate, 2013 statistics indicate that solar energy is on the cusp of going mainstream in the U.S., if it isn't already there. A geographic breakdown of solar installations shows that this is indeed the case, but only in a few U.S. states.

Solar in the geographic mix

California alone accounted for more than half of American PV installations in 2013, adding more solar capacity last year than was installed nationwide in 2011. The top five states for solar energy installations in 2013, California, Arizona, North Carolina (a surprising third!), Massachusetts and New Jersey, accounted for 81 percent.

The high level of geographic concentration reveals just how far solar energy is from being a major factor in the mainstream energy mix for the U.S. as a whole. But it also reveals the tremendous growth potential that still exists. With solar costs continuing to fall, technology continuing to improve, and acceptance at the grassroots level and among large investors on the rise, it appears that even better times lie ahead.

Ongoing declines in solar manufacturing and installation costs, along with ongoing increases in energy conversion efficiencies, continue to drive solar deployments higher. So too does continuing support at the state and federal levels. And so too do new financing mechanisms that are broadening access to new categories of investors and lowering the cost of capital for industry participants.

Even better days are coming

Also looming on the horizon is the prospect of affordable and smart battery storage systems, a development that should provide much in the way of new impetus to an already fast growing U.S. solar energy market. As SEIA President Rhone Resch states in a press release:
“Today, solar is the fastest-growing source of renewable energy in America, generating enough clean, reliable and affordable electricity to power more than 2.2 million homes–and we’re just beginning to scratch the surface of our industry’s enormous potential."

The solar industry continues to be a rare bright spot in terms of generating good jobs, as well as clean, renewable energy, Resch continued.
“Last year alone, solar created tens of thousands of new American jobs and pumped tens of billions of dollars into the U.S. economy. In fact, more solar has been installed in the U.S. in the last 18 months than in the 30 years prior. That’s a remarkable record of achievement.”

The following, courtesy of the SEIA and GTM Research, are some more key takeaways from the “Solar Market Insight Year in Review 2013” report:

  • There is now a total of 12.1 GW of PV and 918 MW of CSP operating in the U.S. That represents an 80 percent increase in CSP capacity.

  • There were 140,000 individual solar installations in the U.S. in 2013, and a total of over 445,000 systems operating today. The market value of all PV installations completed in 2013 was $13.7 billion.

  • Weighted average PV system prices fell 15 percent in 2013, reaching a new low of $2.59 per watt in the fourth quarter.

  • The groups forecast a 26 percent PV installation growth in 2014, with installations reaching nearly 6 GW. Growth will occur in all segments, but will be most rapid in the residential market, they predict.

  • The wave of concentrating solar power installations slated for completion at the end of 2013 into 2014 kicked off with the 280 MW Solana project and the Genesis Solar project’s initial 125 MW phase. In early 2014, BrightSource’s notable Ivanpah project also began operating and SolarReserve’s Crescent Dunes began commissioning.
Image credit: Flickr/CoCreatr

Andrew Burger headshotAndrew Burger

An experienced, independent journalist, editor and researcher, Andrew has crisscrossed the globe while reporting on sustainability, corporate social responsibility, social and environmental entrepreneurship, renewable energy, energy efficiency and clean technology. He studied geology at CU, Boulder, has an MBA in finance from Pace University, and completed a certificate program in international governance for biodiversity at UN University in Japan.

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