It’s Official! U.S. Solar Market Shattered Records In 2016
It’s no surprise that the U.S. solar sector broke records in 2016 – analysts long expected it to be a boom year – but newly released data highlights just how wildly successful the market was.
In its biggest year to date, the U.S. solar industry nearly doubled its annual record, topping out at 14,625 MW of solar PV installed in 2016, according to the latest U.S. Solar Market Insight report from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and GTM Research. This represents a 95% increase over the previous record, 7,493 MW, set in 2015.
For the first time ever, the report adds, U.S. solar ranked as the No. 1 source of new electric generating capacity additions on an annual basis last year. Altogether, solar accounted for 39% of new capacity additions across all fuel types in 2016.
“What these numbers tell you is that the solar industry is a force to be reckoned with,” states Abigail Ross Hopper, SEIA’s president and CEO. “Solar’s economically winning hand is generating strong growth across all market segments nationwide, leading to more than 260,000 Americans now employed in solar.”
The report finds success in 2016 was driven largely by the utility-scale segment, which was bolstered by a pipeline of projects initially hedging against the extension of the federal investment tax credit. The report finds not only did the utility-scale segment represent the most megawatts installed, but it also featured the highest growth rate of any segment, growing 145% from 2015.
“In a banner year for U.S. solar, a record 22 states each added more than 100 MW,” notes Cory Honeyman, GTM Research’s associate director of U.S. solar research. “While U.S. solar grew across all segments, what stands out is the double-digit gigawatt boom in utility-scale solar, primarily due to solar’s cost-competitiveness with natural gas alternatives.”
The non-residential market also exceeded expectations, with two major growth drivers in the segment. The first is community solar, adding a record total of more than 200 MW, led by Minnesota and Massachusetts. Second, rate design and net energy metering fueled a rush in project development and installation growth across a number of major state markets, most notably in California.
For the first time since 2011, the report finds, non-residential installation growth surpassed residential solar growth, which posted a still-impressive 2,583 MW. While growth in California’s residential market has begun to level out, strong growth in markets such as Maryland, New Jersey and a handful of emerging states where solar has achieved grid parity helped the residential segment to grow 19% year-over-year.
As a result of a remarkable 2016, the U.S. is now home to more than 1.3 million solar PV installations, with a cumulative capacity of over 40 GW.
SunShot Announces $30M For Solar Integration
Although the ultimate fate of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) SunShot Initiative remains unclear under the new Trump administration, the federal solar program continues pushing forward. At the end of January, the SunShot Initiative announced up to $30 million in funding for 13 projects to support the integration of solar energy into the nation’s electric grid.
“SunShot is working to lower the cost and complexity of integrating solar with the electric grid,” says SunShot Director Charlie Gay. “These projects give grid operators the tools to manage a modern electric grid.”
SunShot selected the 13 projects under the ENERGISE funding program to enable grid operators to access up-to-the-minute measurement and forecasting data from distributed energy sources and optimize system performance using sensor, communication and data analytics technologies. These projects will help to improve the reliability of the nation’s energy grid by providing utilities with dynamic, automated and cost-effective management of solar and other distributed energy sources. These software and hardware solutions will be highly scalable, data-driven and capable of fully optimizing system operation and planning, according to SunShot.
As part of the Grid Modernization Initiative (GMI), these projects are designed to address not only solar power interconnecting with the grid at scale, but also other technologies like electric vehicles that interconnect with the grid. GMI is an accelerated, DOE-wide effort to develop the concepts, tools, and technologies needed to measure, analyze, predict, protect, and control the grid of the future.
The SunShot Initiative, which is managed by the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, is a collaborative national effort to drive down the cost of solar electricity and accelerate solar adoption. In November 2016, SunShot set a new target to cut the cost of solar-generated electricity by 50% between 2020 and 2030.
Special Delivery: UPS To Bring More Solar Online
As part of UPS’ ongoing commitment to sustainability, the global package delivery company has announced plans to significantly boost the amount of on-site solar it owns and operates.
UPS says it will start with an initial $18 million investment to add solar across at least eight of its facilities in the U.S. The new installations are slated for completion by year-end and will expand UPS’ owned solar portfolio by almost 10 MW – a nearly five-fold increase in the amount of solar power generated at UPS facilities today.
According to UPS, the combined power produced from these projects is equivalent to providing electricity to approximately 1,200 homes annually, and the expanded solar portfolio is expected to reduce carbon emissions by approximately 8,200 metric tonnes per year.
UPS’ investment in solar power began in 2004 in Palm Springs, Calif., where solar panels were installed and are still generating approximately 110 kW of sustainable energy. Today, UPS also produces solar power at its facilities in Lakewood, Parsippany and Secaucus, N.J.
With more than 2,580 facilities worldwide, UPS says it is ideally positioned to increase its investment in renewable energy. Under its long-term renewable energy commitment, the company expects additional solar deployments to occur over the next several years as it identifies suitable opportunities.
“Solar technology is a proven way to effectively and efficiently provide long-term power to our facilities,” says Bill Moir, director of facilities procurement at UPS. “We have a significant number of facilities that are well positioned to deploy solar at scale and increase our sustainable energy options for our buildings and electric vehicles.”
UPS explains it will purchase over 26,000 solar panels during the expansion. Once the projects are completed, each building will effectively produce 50% of its daily energy use via the sun. As a result, UPS will own and operate the installations, providing additional flexibility over the long term. As a company with significant engineering and construction experience, UPS notes it will also be taking a leadership role in both the design and implementation of these projects.
Notably, the company’s sustainability efforts also include major investments in alternative fuels for both its stationary and mobile assets. UPS has spent more than $750 million on alternative fuel and advanced technology vehicles and fueling stations globally since 2009. In April 2016, the company achieved its goal of driving 1 billion miles in its alt-fuel and advanced technology fleet one year earlier than initially planned.
Jimmy Carter Supports Solar In His Hometown
SolAmerica Energy, an Atlanta-based solar development and construction firm, has announced the recent completion of a 1.3 MW solar project on farmland owned by former President Jimmy Carter in Plains, Ga. According to SolAmerica, Carter leased a 10-acre site in his hometown to the company for development of the solar project, which will provide over 50% of the power needs of the City of Plains.
In a press release, Carter, an early advocate and leader of the renewable energy movement during his tenure in the White House, comments, “Rosalynn and I are very pleased to be part of SolAmerica’s exciting solar project in Plains. Distributed, clean energy generation is critical to meeting growing energy needs around the world while fighting the effects of climate change. I am encouraged by the tremendous progress that solar and other clean energy solutions have made in recent years and expect those trends to continue.”
As president, Carter created the U.S. Department of Energy and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and signed the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA) – all catalysts for the advancement of renewable energy in the U.S. Carter was also the first president to put solar panels on the White House.
SolAmerica developed, engineered and installed the single-axis tracker solar array on Carter’s farm property in Plains. Over the next 25 years, the system is projected to generate over 55 million kWh of clean energy in the city.
George Mori, SolAmerica executive vice president, says, “We are honored to work with President Carter and his family on this project in Plains, as President Carter’s leadership on renewable energy matters is well known and much appreciated in our industry.
“Through a 25-year power purchase agreement with Georgia Power, this project will help expand the growth of renewable energy assets in Georgia, while contributing to the overall economy of Plains,” adds Mori.
N.Y. Energy Storage Jobs Surged 30% Over Four Years
Jobs in New York’s energy storage sector have grown to approximately 3,900 – a 30% increase from 2012 through 2015, according to a report from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).
The agency says New York’s commitment to clean energy helped spur this strong growth, and storage will advance the state’s 50% by 2030 clean energy standard, as storage technology can save power generated from solar, wind, and combined heat and power systems for later use.
The report projects that by 2030, New York’s energy storage industry could realize annual global revenues between $5.6 billion and $8.7 billion. In addition, jobs could reach between 17,300 and 26,800 employees (a consistent growth scenario versus a delayed market adoption scenario).
“New York state has become a hub for energy storage technologies – creating new, skilled technology jobs and meeting the needs of utilities, building owners, manufacturers and other large power users,” says John B. Rhodes, president and CEO of NYSERDA. “Under Gov. Cuomo’s Reforming the Energy Vision to create an energy system that is cleaner, more affordable and more resilient, strong growth continues for storage technology and investments.”
NYSERDA says it has invested in more than 50 energy storage technology development projects across the state. It is also working to reduce soft costs associated with distributed energy storage systems by 33% in five years.
Along with several partners, the agency established the New York Battery and Energy Storage Technology Consortium (NY-BEST) in 2010 to help advance the state’s energy storage industry. The consortium now includes Fortune 500 companies, start-ups, universities, national research centers and laboratories spanning all facets of the energy sector, NYSERDA says.
“NY-BEST is pleased that our efforts to grow the energy storage industry in New York state are producing positive results,” says Dr. William Acker, executive director of NY-BEST.
SEPA To Combine Forces With SGIP
Two major nonprofits dedicated to grid modernization and clean energy, the Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA) and SGIP, intend to merge under the SEPA brand and organizational umbrella.
“Within SEPA’s mission of facilitating the electric power sector’s smart transition to a clean energy future, integrating SGIP’s technical knowledge is another way to serve our members,” says Julia Hamm, CEO and president of SEPA. “As a result of the merger, we are excited to add as many as 100 new member organizations to our existing base of 1,000 members, including utilities, private-sector corporations and government agencies. Moreover, the combination of SEPA’s and SGIP’s resources and expertise will accelerate grid modernization efforts and have an even greater impact on the industry.”
Sharon Allan, CEO and president of SGIP, emphasizes, “SGIP’s focus areas of DER management, the energy Internet of Things, cybersecurity, standards and solar data exchange will continue to be a priority under the SEPA umbrella. Plus, a merger with SEPA will provide members with a much broader network of experts to collaborate and consult with on their grid modernization and DER questions and efforts.”
Last year, SEPA rebranded itself from the Solar Electric Power Association to the Smart Electric Power Alliance to better reflect its growing scope.
DTE Unveils Renewables Program For Customers
Detroit-based utility DTE Energy has announced MIGreenPower, a new program that will allow customers to buy power from Michigan wind and solar farms starting in April.
“Until now, customers who wanted to use more renewable energy were limited to installing their own solar panels or other renewable equipment at their homes or businesses – which requires a significant initial investment,” explains Irene Dimitry, vice president of business planning and development at DTE Energy. “We also know that customers who rent apartments or live in condos may be unable to make any alterations to the exterior structure of the homes they live in. MIGreenPower is designed to address customer demand for a more flexible and affordable alternative.”
Energy for the program will be sourced from local DTE projects, including the Pinnebog Wind Project in Huron County and three solar arrays located in Detroit and Lapeer. By subscribing to MIGreenPower, customers can elect to increase the amount of renewable energy they use in 5% increments, up to 100%.
Participation in the program is voluntary and open to all of DTE’s 2.2 million full-service business and residential electric customers. According to the utility, customers who want to participate in MIGreenPower will see a slight increase in their monthly bills depending on the level of renewable energy they select. For example, DTE Energy says, typical residential customers who subscribe to an additional 25% of renewable energy might see a net increase of as little as $5 per month to their bills, while knowing they are helping to support Michigan’s clean energy future.
The utility notes Selfridge Air National Guard Base, located in southeast Michigan, has already expressed interest in being one of the program’s early adopters.
“We are looking carefully at this program,” comments Brigadier General John Slocum, the base commander. “We think it can provide us with a means to meet our sustainability goals efficiently and economically. We are excited to know that DTE is bringing this type of opportunity to its customers in Michigan.”
DTE is among Michigan’s largest investors in renewable energy, including wind and solar, having driven investments of more than $2 billion in renewable energy since 2008. In 2016, more than 10% of the energy provided by DTE was generated from a renewable source in Michigan – enough clean generation to power nearly 450,000 homes.