The news couldn’t have come at a better time.
With the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) poised to announce enhanced air quality standards for coal and natural-gas fired power plants next week, new figures released today show solar energy in America continues its remarkable growth.
Driven by strong year-over-year growth in the utility and residential markets, the United States installed 1,330 megawatts (MW) of solar photovoltaics (PV) in the quarter spanning January through March. To put that into some perspective, solar accounted for 74 percent of all new U.S. electric capacity installed in Q1 2014, demonstrating the rapidly increasing role that solar is playing in the energy market – and its promise as an invaluable resource in the fight against climate change.
Solar energy is now generating enough clean, reliable and affordable electricity to effectively power 3 million American homes, while creating thousands of new jobs nationwide and pumping nearly $15 billion a year into the U.S. economy. Solar is also providing a big boost for our environment. The 14,800 MW of solar currently installed in the U.S. can generate enough pollution-free electricity to displace 18 billion pounds of coal or 1.8 billion gallons of gasoline. That’s the equivalent of removing 3.5 million passenger cars off our roads and highways. For states trying to meet new, stricter air quality standards, solar can be a real game changer.
According to GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industry Association’s (SEIA) Q1 2014 U.S. Solar Market Insight Report, the U.S. installed 232 MW of residential PV, exceeding the non-residential (commercial) market’s 225 MW for the first time in the history of the report.
Ongoing strength in the residential sector and volatility in the non-residential market spurred this historic milestone. Despite the dip in non-residential installations, GTM Research and SEIA expect the market to rebound and exceed the residential market by the end of the year.
Not to be outdone by the success of the residential sector, the utility PV market continued its ascent, growing 171 percent in Q1 2013 over Q1 2014. With 873 MW installed, utility-scale PV accounted for two-thirds of total PV installations during the quarter. Large-scale projects that were under contracts and negotiations between 2010 and 2012 are now becoming a reality.
In another significant development, Q1 2014 was the largest quarter ever for concentrating solar power (CSP) due to the completion of the 392 MWac Ivanpah project and the Genesis Solar project’s second 125 MWac phase. With a total of 857 MWac expected to be completed by year’s end, 2014 is on pace to be the largest year for CSP in history.
Here are the key findings of the report:
Earlier this week, SEIA released another comprehensive report, “Cutting Carbon Emissions Under §111(d): The case for expanding solar energy in America.” The report offers a detailed, point-by-by point case as to why states should take advantage of clean solar energy as part of their efforts to comply with §111(d) of the Clean Air Act. This year alone, solar is expected to generate enough electricity to effectively offset 13.8 metric tons of CO2 emissions.
The recent release of the National Climate Assessment report clearly spells out the growing dangers of climate change to the U.S. economy and the environment. According to study after study, reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – especially from existing power plants – is a critically important step in combating pollution. Once the new EPA emission standards are in place, each state will be required to create a compliance plan, which must be approved by federal regulators. Failure to do so could result in a more restrictive EPA-mandated plan.
“Solar energy is a solution technology that can provide a cost-effective, economically beneficial and integral part of a state’s effort to regulate carbon emissions from the electric sector,” the report states. “Solar energy’s rapidly falling prices and rapidly growing generating capacity, as well as the volatility of fossil fuel prices, give solar energy the potential to transform compliance with both new carbon emission requirements and other existing requirements under the Clean Air Act.”
The report goes on to note, “Historically, air pollution emission reduction from the electric sector has been achieved primarily through pollution control equipment at power plants. Today, the EPA and states recognize that the reduction of carbon emissions from the electric sector requires a new approach that treats the production and delivery of electric power as a broad system, in which power plant modifications, demand side reductions and renewable energy all contribute to emission reductions.
“Solar contributes to a balanced portfolio of energy resources, and can help achieve an optimal long-term strategy for each state’s economy and environment. By including solar energy as part of their §111(d) compliance plan, states can cost-effectively meet their Clean Air Act requirements while reaping a wide range of additional benefits.”
Clearly, some dramatic changes need to be made. Even though carbon emissions declined by 13 percent between 2008 and 2012 at the 100 largest U.S. power producers (thanks mostly to a greater use of natural gas), these same plants still generate 87 percent of the industry’s total air pollution. No, solar isn’t the only answer to this pervasive problem, but we can be a big part of the solution.
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