The solar industry set records in 2015, and looks to set the bar even higher in 2016.
The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) released its 2015 year-end US Solar Market Insight report, and it had some amazing statistics and predictions.
The United States saw 7.3 Gigawatts of new electricity generation come from solar installations and facilities. That is a full Gigawatt more than was added in 2014, and for the first time ever new solar outpaced natural gas. Solar capacity accounted for almost 30% of all new power generated in the nation – that’s an industry growth rate of 17% annually.
GTM Research, the firm that produced the annual report, estimates that the US solar energy industry will add another 16 Gigawatts to the power grid this year – a whopping 120% increase from 2015. Their research includes all new solar projects, from your neighbor’s new panels on their roof to the large solar farms being built in western North Carolina by Duke Energy and Google.
These incredible numbers will be driven in large part by the utility solar market. Power companies like Duke Energy, will account for nearly three-fourths of the new installations.
North Carolina set some records too, and moved up the national rankings for solar energy production:
- The state surpassed 2 GW of solar energy capacity just this month, ranking 3rd nationally behind the capitals of sunny weather, California and Arizona.
- It also came in 2nd, again behind California, for the most solar facilities installed last year, with 1.1 GW added to the electricity supply we all use.
- North Carolina ranked 5th for solar energy produced per capita, with 206 watts for every North Carolinian.
- And North Carolina finished 9th in total jobs created in the solar industry, with almost 6,000 employed directly in the generation of electricity.
Like the national numbers, the totals for North Carolina are a mix of residential, commercial, and utility solar facilities. The North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association has created an interactive map that shows all the active and planned solar facilities throughout the state.
In North Carolina, Duke Energy Renewables, a commercial business unit of Duke Energy, has 22 solar facilities in North Carolina that are complete or under construction, representing 265 mW and an investment of more than $500 million. These projects include an 80 mW facility in Edgecombe County and a 120 mW farm in Currituck County. The latter will be the largest solar farm east of the Mississippi River when it comes online this year.
Corporations like Google and Apple have invested in their own solar energy generation, helping the state reach these incredible numbers. Google’s parent company, Alphabet, has contracted for 61 mW of solar power with Duke Energy to power its North Carolina data centers.
“This is the first time that we’re purchasing solar power in enough volume to power one of our data centers,” – Gary Demasi, who oversees data center energy and location strategy at Google.
In a statement following the report’s release, SEIA president Rhone Resch said, “Because of the strong demand for solar energy nationwide, and smart public policies like the ITM (investment federal tax credit) and NTM (net energy metering), hundreds of thousands of well-paying solar jobs will be added in the next few years benefiting both America’s economy and the environment.”
The numbers from GTM and SEIA show that the solar industry is expanding at an incredibly rapid rate nationally.North Carolina finds itself at the forefront of that expansion at every level from residential rooftop to utility-sized solar farms.
It’s crystal clear from the results of this research that, when positive public policy at the state and federal level is mixed with investments by good corporate partners and utility companies, clean and renewable energy technologies can be a dominant part of our energy sources for the future.