Historically, the growth of the solar power industry has been tracked by information gleaned from government agencies and utility companies. But a new report released by BuildZoom has taken a decidedly different approach to gauging that growth: by counting up the number of building permits that have been applied for.
According to BuildZoom founder Jiyan Wei, this previously untried method enables more precise projections due to the fact that permits must be granted well before any other work can take place. “Building permits are required before installation can begin, and certainly before grid interconnection takes place,” Wei said. “As a result, building permit data provide an early indication of grid interconnection numbers subsequently provided by utilities.”
Issi Romem, Chief Economist for BuildZoom and author of the report, explained that solar installation statistics were mined from an internal database comprised of some 80 million building permits located throughout the U.S. Although BuildZoom’s data does not cover all regions, Romem said the numbers are “estimates based on the parts of the country we do see and extrapolated for the rest of the country.”
The report provides detail on what BuildZoom is calling “meteoric growth” in solar installations. Data presented states that from 2005 to 2014, solar installations grew by a factor of 20. During that time, yearly installations went from roughly 10,000 in 2005 to an explosive 230,000 in 2014 alone. The report also finds that the most rapid solar growth is occurring in the Northeast, which experienced a jump of 227 percent in new systems between 2013 and 2014.
Throughout, California remains the venerable epicenter of that activity, accounting for roughly half of all yearly installed solar systems. Findings indicate that there are 8.89 solar systems for every 1,000 Californians, a figure that is almost quadruple the national average.
Other report insights talk to potential challenges in Hawaii, where the ratio of solar systems is seven times that of California at 64.22 for every 1,000 residents. In 2014, solar growth in Hawaii dropped 25 percent, in large part due to problems adapting the grid to the rapidly growing number of solar installations.
Romem said his research has led him to believe this problem may make itself known elsewhere soon. “It will probably happen in California next,” he said, “once solar expands to the dimensions it’s reached in Hawaii.”
Recently, the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) issued a press release warning of “a serious market cliff for new investments absent policy action by Congress.” The BuildZoom report addresses the issue of the looming expiration of the federal Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) in 2016, which many fear could result in the bust of the current solar boom.
Citing the rapidly declining cost of solar power installation fueled by improving technology, the BuildZoom report predicts, “Even if it takes a hit, solar will continue to grow.” That argument is bolstered by the report’s assertions that cost of solar installations had already begun to drop ahead of the introduction of the ITC in 2006, and will likely continue to do so after its scheduled expiration.
The full BuildZoom report is available online and can be found here.