The U.S. solar market hit a major milestone in the second quarter of this year, with more than half a million homes and businesses now generating solar energy, according to a new report by GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).
According to the Q2 2014 U.S. Solar Market Insight Report, the United States installed 1,133 megawatts of solar photovoltaics (PV) in the second quarter of this year. The residential and commercial segments accounted for nearly half of all solar PV installations in the quarter.
The residential market has seen the most consistent growth of any segment for years and is expected to continue on its upward path. Across the U.S., cumulative PV and concentrating solar power (CSP) operating capacity has surpassed 15.9 gigawatts, enough to power more than 3.2 million homes.
This expansion of solar power also has been a boon to the economy, the report's authors say. Today, the solar industry employs 143,000 Americans and pumps nearly $15 billion a year into the economy. Much of this can be credited to effective public policies, such as the solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC), net energy metering and renewable portfolio standards (RPS).
The utility PV segment made up 55 percent of U.S. solar installations in the second quarter of 2014, which has accounted for more than half of national PV installations for the fifth straight quarter. In just two years, the utility segment quadrupled its cumulative size -- growing from 1,784 MW in the first half of 2012 to 7,308 MW today.
Solar continues to be a primary source of new electric generation capacity in the U.S., with 53 percent of new electric generating capacity in the first half of 2014 coming from solar. With new sources of capital being unlocked, design and engineering innovations reducing system prices, and sales channels rapidly diversifying, the solar market is expected to drive significant growth for the next few years. GTM Research and SEIA forecast 6.5 GW of PV will be installed in the United States by the end of this year, up 36 percent over 2013.
Notably, the report says that for the first time ever, more than 100 MW of residential PV came online without any state incentive. However, growth remains driven primarily by the utility solar PV market, which installed 625 MW in Q2 2014, up from 543 MW in Q2 2013.
Renewables, including solar and wind, have the potential for wide-scale economic revitalization — that is, if we implement the right policies and frameworks. In June, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) released a report that analyzed the circumstances under which renewable energy can boost economies and benefit communities by studying the effects of solar and wind energy on the environment, economy and society. It found that the large-scale deployment of renewable energy can create jobs, increase incomes, improve trade balances and contribute to industrial development.
We still have a long way to go before we can power our entire society with renewables, but it is encouraging to see progress being made and how far we have come. We are on the right track.
Image Credit: Flickr Maureen McHale
Based in Washington, D.C., Mike Hower is a writer, thinker and strategic communicator that revels in driving the conversation at the intersection of sustainable business and policy. He has cultivated diverse experience working for the United States Congress in Washington, D.C., helping Silicon Valley startups with strategic communications and teaching in South America. Connect with him on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter (@mikehower)
Currently based in Washington, D.C, <strong>Mike Hower</strong> is a new media journalist and strategic communication professional focused on helping to drive the conversation at the intersection of sustainable business and public policy. To learn more about Mike, visit his blog,<a href="http://climatalk.com/" > ClimaTalk</a>.