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America Installed 22 Times More Solar in 2014 Than in 2008

Stephen Lacey's picture
Greentech Media

Stephen Lacey is a Senior Editor at Greentech Media, where he focuses primarily on energy efficiency. He has extensive experience reporting on the business and politics of cleantech. He was...

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  • Jan 25, 2015
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Solar has risen unabated in the post-recession economy, growing from 263 MW to 5.7 GW.

Since the 2008 mortgage crisis and Great Recession, two industries have fared better than most others: finance and energy.

Although most people are delighted to see their stock portfolios and retirement funds doing well, very few are extolling the good fortunes of the investment banks that caused the mess. However, the surge in domestic energy production — both fossil fuels and renewable electricity — is something nearly everyone can celebrate.

In terms of new investment activity and job creation, the solar industry has posted some of the best numbers in recent years. In 2014, new domestic solar jobs were added at a pace twenty times faster than the broader economy, bringing total jobs to 173,807. And a new solar installation is now being completed every two and a half minutes in the U.S., up from one every two hours a decade before.

New figures show how steadily the industry has grown since 2008, even as many other domestic industries struggled to recover from the recession.

According to preliminary numbers from Shayle Kann of GTM Research, America installed twenty-two times more solar in 2014 than in 2008. That includes both photovoltaics and concentrating solar power, tracked in AC terms.

Source: GTM Research

In 2008, the U.S. installed 263 megawatts (AC) of solar PV and CSP. In 2014, based on GTM Research’s conservative estimates, the U.S. installed at least 5.7 gigawatts (AC). The PV figures were discounted into AC from DC in order to make an accurate comparison and include concentrating solar.

More than 80,000 new jobs have been created in the industry since then. Today, one company, SolarCity, is booking almost as much solar capacity in one quarter as the entire industry put on-line in all of 2008. 

U.S. solar companies could face problems in 2017 after the phase-down of the federal Investment Tax Credit, mirroring the current turmoil in oil and gas. Some believe the industry will survive and even prevail without the tax credit; others believe it will cause a steep drop in installations and force the industry to shed tens of thousands of jobs.

greentech mediaGreentech Media (GTM) produces industry-leading news, research, and conferences in the business-to-business greentech market. Our coverage areas include solar, smart grid, energy efficiency, wind, and other non-incumbent energy markets. For more information, visit: greentechmedia.com , follow us on twitter: @greentechmedia, or like us on Facebook: facebook.com/greentechmedia.

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Spec Lawyer's picture
Spec Lawyer on Jan 25, 2015

I hope that we see some snowball effects . . . 

-People that buy PV often go on to buy EVs to put their electricity to good use.

-People that buy EVs often go on to buy PV to power their EVs.

-Neighbors of people that install PV or buy EVs ask questions and learn . . . and often decide to get PV themselves.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 25, 2015

Spec Lawyer, that might work for:

  • a very large solar array, and
  • a very small electric car, and
  • a very sunny part of the country, and
  • someone who has no commute

Otherwise the idea that home solar arrays can “power your EV” is nonsense.

A 3kWh array at 15% capacity factor will generate 3,942 kWh of electricity each year.  A Nissan Leaf owner who charges their vehicle daily will need 7,300 kWh each year – almost twice that. And nearly all EV charging happens at night, because nearly all work – and driving – happens during the day.

Meanwhile, the local gas utility is chugging away all night long, and the local gas provider is thanking Providence for all the solar array owners with their “clean” electric cars who help pay his bills.

Spec Lawyer's picture
Spec Lawyer on Jan 26, 2015

Well Bob, I actually have a PV array and an EV so I know what I’m talking about. 3KW (I assume you meant KW not a nonsensical KWH) is a pretty small system. I think the average is around 5KW these days. My 6KW system generates enough to power and my house and provide some 12,000 miles of EV driving.  Last year, I paid nothing for gasoline, nothing for electricity, and the utility ended up owing me money.  So don’t tell me it is “nonsense”, I do it every single day in the real world.   

 

BTW, people do not charge their EVs from empty to full daily, so that is kind of an oversized example.  (Do you fill up your gas tank every day?)  But if you put in 7300KWH in you car each year, that will give you some 22,000 miles of driving.  

 

Oh . . . and you might want to learn about net-metering.

 

 

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Jan 26, 2015

A market study in NL found behaviour of the neighbours to be the decisive factor for the decision to take rooftop PV-panels. Just me too behaviour.

Hops Gegangen's picture
Hops Gegangen on Jan 26, 2015

 

I don’t know about you, but I really enjoy seeing the sun shining on my solar panels. 

To me, there’s a value that isn’t captured in the dollars and cents. It’s really sort of a thing of beauty. 

Spec Lawyer's picture
Spec Lawyer on Jan 26, 2015

Yeah, I don’t like to believe in conspiracy theories but I am shocked how much blatant misinformation is spewed in comments sections that it is often hard not to suspect that some industries are paying for a social media bashing campaign.   I understand it when people are clueless and don’t know much . . . but when they assert actual numbers are that are completely wrong, it just seems suspicious. 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 26, 2015

Daniele, I do own a Leaf but I’m not foolish enough to think I could afford to “power it” with solar panels on my roof – even in sunny Southern California (Vermont CF ~ 13%).

Let’s assume, unrealistically, that I live in a desert community and  my CF is 20%. I’ll also assume, unlike the vast majority of solar array owners, that I have a brand new AGM battery storage system which is 85% efficient, so I can actually use this solar energy to charge my car. Over the course of one year, that system will generate

3,000 x .2 (CF) x 8760 (hrs/yr) x .85 = 4468 kWh of useful energy.

If I drive the U.S. average of 12,000 miles, I’ll need

12000 mi x 4kWh/mi = 48 kWh

That leaves me holding the bag for 3,320 kWh – which I could probably get by with by calling in sick for a couple of weeks.

What you and other posters conveniently gloss over is the fact that most charging occurs at night and most PV owners don’t have or maintain storage. So the power to charge their vehicles comes exclusively from the grid mix, which here in California is 60% natural gas. That they can occasionally contribute to a slight reduction in fossil generation during the day is wonderful, but will never remove the need for fossil fuels at night, despite rosey predictions for grid storage. That is why the CEO of Royal Dutch Shell, whose company now makes more money from natural gas than gasoline, would like to bestow on everyone with solar panels a big sloppy French kiss.

Shell Sees Solar as Biggest Energy Source After Exiting It

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 26, 2015

Spec Lawyer, you very well might be one of the few people, in one of the few areas of the country which I allude to, whose net generation does make up for their driving (note distinction with “powering their car”, above).

NREL estimates

A 2008 study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory found that only 22 to 27% of residential rooftop area is suitable for hosting an on-site photovoltaic (PV) system after adjusting for structural, shading, or ownership issues.

so you’re clearly in a minority, and PV panels on residential roofs does not consittute a solution to our shortage of carbon-free energy.

It’s interesting that these discussions quickly turn to how much money can be made by exploiting net-metering schemes and government handouts. Ultimately, the power of the sun isn’t saving anyone money – it’s the result of subsidies from people who can’t afford solar panels, or the 75% for whom they don’t make sense.

Spec Lawyer's picture
Spec Lawyer on Jan 26, 2015

Well Bob, you REALLY don’t know what you are talking about.  Your calculations are WRONG.  Why are you trying (and failing badly) to make calculations anyway?  Just look at some real data!   Here is a link to various Enphase microinverter based systems.  Go look at a few 5KW systems in California and see how much electricity they produce.

https://enlighten.enphaseenergy.com/public_systems

 

 

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Jan 26, 2015

Unless the price goes down when the sun shines (in Germany already starting). Then day-time charging becomes popular and charging stations at employers parking lots will spring up.

Hops Gegangen's picture
Hops Gegangen on Jan 26, 2015

 

We are already starting to see employers and public garages offer charging stations. At some point, and in some places, we may see more charging during the day than at night.

And of course, as the baby boomer generation is retiring, the number of people living in sunny places with cars that are mostly just sitting around most of the day will not be insignificant.

But as I always say, there are going to be a lot of regional differences. My solar panels are presently under several inches of snow.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 26, 2015

Spec Lawyer, corrections to my post above, which show that under that scenario I would be able to power my EV:

3 kW x .2 (CF) x 8760 (hrs/yr) x .85 = 4,467 kWh of useful energy.

12,000/4 miles/kWh = 3,000 kWh

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 26, 2015

Hops, I know PV still works under snow but what are you getting out now (as a percentage of capacity)?

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 26, 2015

Hops, it’s unfortunate we can’t see the 8 millions tons of extra carbon dioxide being emitted after the closure of my local nuclear power plant, which negates the contribution of all the solar panels in my state – and then some.

But I understand why solar panels’ value isn’t captured in dollars and cents if others are paying for one-third of them.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 26, 2015

Daniele, thanks – also corrected below.

Spec Lawyer's picture
Spec Lawyer on Jan 26, 2015

Well, you look at the Enphase link I provided (which is actual measured data, not theory), you’ll see that you can power a car pretty much everywhere in the country except a few places.

No, I’m not in the minority.  I use only a fraction of my roof (the most southern side).  I could get even more by using other sides.  And that study is from 2008 and thus not as useful today.  With cheaper panel prices and microinverters that deal with shading, it is now economical to put up PV panels in places where they will be shaded for part of the day.  

And, yes, my PV power does not often directly power my car (although it often does).  Instead what I do is MUCH BETTER for the utility since I provided them power when they most need it (during the day, especially hot sunny days) and I draw power from them when they have excess power (at night when people are sleeping).  

And, yes, it *IS* saving me money.  Even before the tax-credits, my self-installed system is providing me with cheaper power than utility did.    But the subsidies are well-deserved because all they do is counter-act the MASSIVE SUBSIDY that the utilities get for being able to spew toxins and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere without paying for that.  

Hops Gegangen's picture
Hops Gegangen on Jan 26, 2015

 

In addition to the snow, it is very cloudy. I’m getting nothing at all. The panels are cheap, as is the microinverter; the system is more of an experiment. A better system might get something.

 

Spec Lawyer's picture
Spec Lawyer on Jan 26, 2015

Please share your experience with snow & solar PV.  I have family in Minnesota and I live in California, so the experience would be much different.  From what I could figure, it seems that if you have a single story roof then you could get a big snow rake pole and pull off snow from that low roof.  But if the roof is up high, it isn’t worth bothering.  You are only missing out on a few short hours of a sun that is very low on the horizon so it isn’t worth putting an effort into trying to clear off the snow unless it is very easy (AND SAFE!) to do.  

Spec Lawyer's picture
Spec Lawyer on Jan 26, 2015

That calculation is much closer.  I think that number is probably low . . . use a solar insolation map instead of some capacity factor.

But I don’t really see the point in trying to such guess work!  Just go here and look at some PV systems near where you live.  

https://enlighten.enphaseenergy.com/public_systems

 

And a 3KW system is so small that it probably would not be worth installing.  If you are going to design a system, get the permits, and run all the conduit & wires . . . then you might as well build a large system that will cover your current & future needs (or be at least as big as you can fit).   The additional PV panels & microverters are just small additional cost.  

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 26, 2015

Spec Lawyer, right now in California solar is providing one-fifteenth of our electricity, at peak (7PM) – when CAISO needs it most – it will be producing nothing.

http://www.caiso.com/Pages/TodaysOutlook.aspx#SupplyandDemand

I’m not sure where you live; there are areas in the country where it’s more effective.

Hops Gegangen's picture
Hops Gegangen on Jan 26, 2015

 

I understand there is some consideration of paying a premium for panels facing west to address the peak demand issue.

People could also be smarter about the thermostat and the timing of other appliance operations.

Hops Gegangen's picture
Hops Gegangen on Jan 26, 2015

 

The real issue is the cloud cover. Even if the snow were removed, there is just no sun for the panels to pick up. If I had more panels or a different sort of inverter, there might be a little juice. But I live in just about the worst place in the country for solar.

I think it is even worse than Seattle. 

In Seattle, the summer air is often dry and clear. Here in western PA, when the days are the longest, there is a haze of water vapor that drops my current about 10% even on what seems a sunny day.

The notion that global warming will increase atmospheric moisture may be something to consider outside of the (possibly expanding) desert areas.

 

Hops Gegangen's picture
Hops Gegangen on Jan 26, 2015

 

Them there “others” be paying for the depletion allowance for oil wells and for depreciation of other capital investments like coal-fired power plants. 

Our nation’s tax laws are a joke, but let’s just not go there….

 

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on Jan 26, 2015

“…and the utility ended up owing me money. “

Who paid for the grid and its connection to your home, if not you?  Take away the busbar cost of the grid energy generated (~3-5 cents/kWh), and 75% of the grid cost (8-16 cents/kWh) remains.

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on Jan 27, 2015

Well, you look at the Enphase link I provided (which is actual measured data, not theory), you’ll see that you can power a car pretty much everywhere in the country except a few places.”

The cited NREL study does not say certain geographic areas are unsuitable for solar, but that in any given area several factors will make given residential rooftop unsuitable, suca as shading, ownership issues, structural (roof has a poor sun angle or can’t accept the mass/wind load).  Per NREL, the share of unsuitable buildings, whereever they may be located, is large. 

Similarly, since a large share of adults in the US do not live in single family homes, many can not easily obtain home EV charging.  In China, where the urban population overwhelmingy lives in high rise apartments, availability of EV home charging is proving difficult. 

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on Jan 27, 2015

Our nation’s tax laws are a joke, but let’s just not go there….”

We need to nonetheless.

The fact is that rooftop solar energy is the most expensive of the renewable energies, certainly when one projects a significant marketshare for it (as PV advocates always do). Yet homeowners who buy rooftop solar achieve a positive return on investment. How can that be? Through the tax system and utility rate structure. Money is transferred from the poor (i.e. non-rooftop-solar owners) to the rich (rooftop solar owners). This increases inequality.

Fossil fuels also have various financial subsidies and tax benefits, but the tax revenues from the fossil energy industry dwarf these subsidies by a factor of almost eight to one (in OECD nations). So tax revenues from fossil fuel production and consumption is paying for schools, healthcare, pensions, etc, in those nations. Solar rooftop does the opposite: it consumes public funds.

Of course, fossils also have significant so-called  post-tax externalities (pollution, climate change, etc.) which can (and should) be called subsidies. In fact, these externalities are so significant according to recent research that they exceed even the very high tax revenues from fossils in OECD countries. Be that as it may, these the costs of these externalities are spread relatively evenly across the national population, and therefore do not exacerbate inequality nearly as much as the rooftop solar tax/subsidy racket is doing.

Crucially, the cost of post-tax externalities should not be taken to imply that high pre-tax subsidies for rooftop-solar is necessarily a ‘good deal’ for society since it reduce the post-tax subsidies for fossils. It would be only if the reduction of post-tax fossil subsidies is greater than the pre-tax subsidies for solar. Society is obviously not helped when post-tax subsidies for fossils are reduced by implementing technologies (rooftop solar) which increase pre-tax subsidies even more than the post-tax subsidies it displaces!

Putting it plainly: if the post-tax subsidy of burning coal is 8 ct/kWh (literature puts it at somewhere around 4 ct/kWh), then society is not helped by implementing (buffered) rooftop solar which is much more than 8 ct/kWh more expensive than coal.

Hops Gegangen's picture
Hops Gegangen on Jan 27, 2015

 

There is one way in which roof-top solar benefits society, and that is by taking strain off the grid during peak demand for air conditioning. Not only does the utility not need the reserve power capacity but it also does not need the reserve grid capacity. And as the population grows in a region, that becomes more of an issue; for example, adding to the grid in NYC was going to be hugely expensive, so ConEd has focussed on conservation and alternative local energy.

Nor is the CO2 the only issue with coal. Here in coal country, we have had chemical leaks into rivers, coal ash spills, and to this day have fine particulates in the air.

When looking at my small solar array, if it breaks even over its lifetime, that’s fine by me. I’m happy just knowing one less ton of coal was burned. I am a happy warrior in the war on coal.

 

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on Jan 27, 2015

The original homeowner (or builder) paid for the connection when the lot was finished. Depending on the situation that may have been very pricy.”

The original, new construction connection fee is typically ~$500-$1000 does not begin to cover the capital cost of power plants and distribution nor maintenance of same.  Some 2/3 to 3/4 of the traditional electric bill goes to pay for the above over long periods.  Regardless of ownership of the residence after hookup, the utility can reasonably assume many decades of monthly payments from that residence out of which it finances new infrastructure and maintenance of existing.  

In the US, with average electric bill ~$110/month, if $77/month goes to non-fuel grid expenses (new plants and transmission, maintenance) then the present value  of those payments (i.e. lump sum) is about $20K.  It is something like this cost that utilities are arguing for now for solar users.    Pay that amount on the day of the connection, never use any net electricity via solar, etc, and then the electricity financials and car purchases financials would have some similarity.  



Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on Jan 28, 2015

The correlation between incident solar radiation and air conditioning demand is loose. There will be many instances where air-conditioning demand peaks while solar generation is minimal (for instance, hot, humid, overcast days, or even a solar eclipse in summer, for that matter). So it is not possible to economise on grid capacity by relying on solar power contribution. Moreover, reserve capacity will need to be able to cover the full solar contribution at all times, even while it will be idle much of the time, and hence there is no economising on reserve capacity either.

If you have paid for your solar array entirely using your own disposable income, and also are paying the utility for the power quality and security service it is still providing you, then I agree you are a happy warrior in the war on coal. But if you have made use of any hidden or direct subsidy for your solar array, or if you are no longer paying the utility in full for providing you security of supply, then I would have to characterise you as a warrior in the war for coal.

Hops Gegangen's picture
Hops Gegangen on Jan 28, 2015

 

One analysis I saw recently noted that the coal fired plants, which already exist, can be used for backup. That wouldn’t be the end of the world. 

Spec Lawyer's picture
Spec Lawyer on Jan 28, 2015

Solar panels are not forcing nuclear power plants to close, so I don’t quite understand why you bring up that whine.  

 

And you are not paying for 1/3 of other people’s solar panels.  Those people are just being allowed to keep more of their earnings from a tax-credit that is available to you as well.   You also benefit from the cleaner air while the solar panel owners still have to breathe the toxins output by the fossil fuel plants, so the solar PV owners are still getting the worse deal.  

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