Solar Energy and the Green Power Market

A new milestone was reached in the evolution of solar energy. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association’s (SEIA) U.S. Solar Market Insight: 2nd Quarter 2013 report, released on September 12th 2013, the US solar market has had its second largest quarter in history.  “The industry installed 832 MW of photovoltaic (PV) capacity, up 15% over deployment levels in Q1 2013”, which means over 9,730 MW of cumulative solar electric capacity operates across the U.S. as we speak. This is enough to power 1.5 million American homes. The trend has increased rapidly over the past years, and, so far, 2013 looks like a new record year.  It is expected that by the end of the year, “a solar project will have been installed, on average, every four minutes in the U.S.”

U.S. Solar market and 2013 projections

During the second quarter of 2013, the utility PV market was the one to drive most of the growth, with 38 projects totaling over 450 MW of projects commissioned. The commercial sector was also an important market driver in some states, while residential installations carry on growing at a steady pace. The overall solar market is projected to grow by 30% compared to last years’ records, with projects accumulating 4,400 MW of PV capacity and 900 MW of concentrating solar power (CSP) likely to be commissioned by the end of 2013. In total, the solar energy generated in 2013 is enough to power another 860,000 average homes across the U.S.

The report also includes a ranking of 10 U.S. states, according to the solar projects installed since the beginning of the year, but also by Cumulative Installed Solar Electric Capacity. With 438 installed MW, California dominates both rankings by far.  Arizona and New Jersey are also notable runners up, having installed 90 and 78 MW of solar power, respectively, over the same period. The same chart indicates how solar energy is used by various sectors of the industry. About two thirds of California’s total installed capacity is utility-related, but residential and commercial uses are still the biggest installed capacity of the 10 states. Similarly, Arizona has few commercial and residential solar installed projects, but a considerable amount of utility projects, while North Carolina (the fourth place of the 10 U.S.states) only has utility-related installed projects.  On the other hand, New Jersey has an overwhelming commercial solar installed project, with almost no residential or utility installed projects.

The Green Power Market

Clearly, the solar market is a huge success, but what about the other sectors of the green industry? Obviously, not all locations on earth can benefit equally from sunny weather, and sometimes a grid-tied or hybrid solar system is necessary. In many cold climate countries such as the United Kingdom, relying solely on solar energy and living off-grid is rarely possible, and the most common option is to be connected to a dual-fuel energy grid that, as explain, supplies the rest of the energy requirements (not covered by the solar panels).  The question then becomes: how green is the extra energy we’re buying? In the U.S. there are plenty of options. Encouraged by continuous government and local policies, the U.S. green power market has become increasingly strong each year. According to the Green Power Network (GPN), part of the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), green power sales flourish. Over 220 certified green power companies are active across the U.S. Depending on location, some of these companies combine more than one renewable energy source, such as wind, hydro and solar.

Apart from the obvious environmental implications of switching from fossil-fuels to clean energy, there are also visible and immediate benefits. Renewable energy –and solar in particular– is becoming more affordable each year, as a combined result of the local or governmental policies and the industry’s development. As GPN shows, hundreds of governmental or local programs have been developed across the country, including utility green power pricing programs.  As a result, the green power marketplace became more competitive and prices declined dramatically. The solar energy market, for instance, is “more affordable than ever”, with the national average PV installed system price “declined by 11% to $3.05/W”, as the U.S. Solar Market Insight report states. From 2011, the average price of a PV panel has become 60% cheaper.

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