Solar Power Continues Its March to the Mainstream

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The impacts of climate change are being felt around the globe, with higher temperatures and more natural disasters such as flooding. For too long we have relied on dirty fossil fuels to make modern life possible. For years, some argued that widespread adoption of solar power would be too expensive. Fortunately, analysis after analysis have proven critics wrong.

The most recent assessment is by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), which points out that costs for large-scale solar power projects dropped by 7 percent in 2014. Costs have decreased by more than half since 2009, according to the report.

The ol’ Oracle of Omaha is even investing in solar power: Warren Buffett’s Nevada utility, Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary NV Energy, agreed to purchase solar power from a 100-megawatt project First Solar is developing, Bloomberg reports. NV Energy will pay 3.87 cents per kilowatt-hour. In 2014, the utility paid 13.77 cents per kWh for renewable energy. As Bloomberg put it, “The rapid decline is a sign that solar energy is becoming a mainstream technology with fewer perceived risks.” Yes, indeed it is a sign that solar power is becoming mainstream.

This year alone, solar power in six of the largest metropolitan areas in the U.S. — representing over 30 million Americans — reached parity with utility electricity prices, according to the Institute for Local Self Reliance (ILSR). That’s three times more than previous assessments by the ILSR, which predicted only two metropolitan areas would reach solar parity by 2015.

A report released in January by North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center found that, in 46 of America’s largest cities, a typically sized photovoltaic solar power system that is fully-financed is a better investment than the stock market. In 42 of those cities, a PV system costs less than energy from the local utility. An estimated 9.1 million single-family homeowners in America’s 50 largest cities already live where solar costs less than their local utility rates if they bought a PV system outright.

The UCS predicts that by 2017 over half of the states in the U.S. could have rooftop solar systems that are as cheap as local utility rates. Since 2007, the price of installing a typically sized PV rooftop system has dropped by almost half. In leading states, a 5-kilowatt system could cost homeowners less than $10,000 after accounting for tax credits, rebates and other forms of support.

Let’s look at an analysis from last year: A report by the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that the reported prices of residential and commercial PV systems have dropped in recent years. From 1998 to 2013, prices dropped by 6 to 7 percent. In just one year, 2012 to 2013, the prices dropped 12 to 15 percent.

Solar power becoming mainstream is good news for the planet and its inhabitants. Climate scientists say that in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change we need to reduce carbon emissions to 350 parts per million (PPM) from the current 400 PPM. And renewable energy is an easy and cheap way to reduce these emissions.

Image credit: Flickr/h080

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.