The rapid acceleration in the solar industry inspires confidence in the future of sustainable energy. In the second quarter of 2015, the U.S. reached a total 24.1 gigawatts (GW) of installed solar photovoltaics—that’s enough solar PV to power 5 million American homes! For the first time in history, solar has surpassed natural gas in new electric generating capacity in the U.S., accounting for 29.5 percent.
Solar energy has become more attainable to the residential sector, thanks to refined technology and high demand driving down costs, along with incentives that bolster motivation. While challenges remain on the road to establishing dominance over fossil fuels, the growth rate of the solar industry is already benefitting the environment and the economy—and it’s just getting going.
Solar companies are adding workers 12 times faster than the overall economy, according to a report by The Solar Foundation. The solar industry saw an employment increase of 20 percent in a single year, and it now employs 200,000 people. What’s more, the solar sector boasts more ethnic and gender diversity than the oil, gas, and coal industries. It employs a higher percentage rate of veterans and Latino or Hispanic individuals than the U.S. workforce.
California leads the pack when it comes to job creation. Bernadette del Chiaro, the executive director of the California Solar Industries Association (CALSEIA), said “While conventional energy industries are losing jobs, we are seeing record growth and bringing clean air and climate solutions along the way.” California hopes to convert to 33 percent renewable energy by 2020.
The solar investment tax credit (ITC) has played a vital role in the growth of solar thus far. The 30 percent federal tax credit for residential and commercial solar was set to expire at the end of 2015, but was extended through the end of 2016. This will allow solar companies to secure long-term investments that inspire innovation and competition, which drives down costs for consumers. There are also state and local incentives to fuel interest in new solar installations.
The Solar Energy Industries Association will continue to fight for the tax credit, and they’re setting their sights on another five-year extension that will prove vital to continuing solar growth. If the ITC is extended until 2022, then every year, the solar industry would offset 100 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.
Meanwhile, the Paris agreement established a framework for an aggressive fight against climate change. The U.S. made a goal to cut carbon emissions by 26 to 28 percent by 2025, and will largely rely on solar to accomplish this.
While the growth of solar is impressive and inspires hope for the future of clean energy, the industry can’t afford to rest on its laurels. The Paris climate agreement won’t go into effect until 55 countries representing at least 55 percent of global emissions agree to ratify it. Thankfully, the solar industry has grown independently of established carbon reduction targets. Meanwhile, the fossil fuel industry is waging war against solar, arguing that homeowners with solar must pay fees to cover the costs of using the grid. Anti-solar action has already been taken by utility companies in Nevada, Arizona, and Florida, states with ideal conditions for profiting from solar. Solar advocates and consumers are fighting to resist and overcome the grip of power companies.
Front-loaded costs continue to be an obstacle even in the face of promising ROIs. There’s also the issue of storage; storage batteries are expensive, costing about $1,000 per kilowatt hour. For many home and business owners making a sizeable front-end investment, this simply isn’t reasonable. However, innovations in solar storage (such as the Tesla batteries, which are available at a reduced rate through SolarCity) will lead to reduced reliance on power companies and a shrinking of the gap between solar supply and demand.
The solar industry has taken leaps of progress and is slated to continue at this impressive pace, but its continued success relies on further innovation and advocation.
About the Author
Bryn Huntpalmer is a mother of two young children living in Austin, Texas where she currently works as an Editor for Modernize. In addition to regularly contributing to Home Remodeling and Design websites around the web, her writing can be found on Lifehacker and About.com.