Smaller Solar Companies To Regain Industry Control

For years now, the five largest residential solar installation companies have enjoyed a majority share of the market. This trend is beginning to reverse. In the next few years, smaller solar companies will once again regain majority share of the residential solar market in the U.S.

Thanks again goes to GreenTech Media for figures and the related graph on this story.

While both commercial and utility scale solar are expected to take a downturn this year, the residential solar market will continue grow. This growth is primarily due to falling prices, state policies which are solar friendly, and increasing demand for solar in emerging areas of the country.

One of the key factors that led to the market dominance of the large solar companies was their ability to offer and simplify financing. PPAs and solar leases allowed these companies to not only offer financing but make going solar as easy as possible. Of course, as many homeowners have since found out, this turned out to be a very expensive way of going solar.

Now there are plenty of ways for a homeowner to get financing for a solar power system. The bottom line is that third-party financing in the form of a long term lease or PPA is much more expensive than acquiring a loan for a solar installation done by a local, smaller solar company. Word about this is spreading quickly, leading the larger companies to finally offer lower pricing and moving away from pushing leases. However, some large companies simply can’t make the numbers work and are vacating the residential space altogether.

To make matters even worse for the larger solar outfits, not only are they continually having to compete with more affordable and nimble installers, but their cost of acquiring new customers has only gone up.

The following graph is an illustration of how the smaller solar companies have grown more quickly than their larger competitors over the past couple of years.
growth in residential solar 2015-2016
As can be seen from the graph, the top three installers experienced a growth in residential sales of only 10 percent last year, compared with 35 percent in 2015. Obviously not a sustainable trend for these solar giants.

Ultimately we’re witnessing a change-up in the residential solar industry that will continue to benefit homeowners everywhere. Emerging markets will develop plenty of smaller companies that will compete on price and service, as has been the case for years in older solar markets. As in many other industries, consumers win through healthy competition among vendors. Solar is no exception to this rule.

Understandably, many homeowners are still concerned about their local state policies concerning net metering. This will not be a concern much longer. The democratization of energy will continue as home energy storage becomes affordable and commonplace in the coming years, ending the net metering “power” struggle. Homeowners will simply store their excess solar power for later use instead of being at the mercy of their local utility to buy it from them.

So here’s to strong, local solar economies! The future is looking bright!

The Decline In The Cost Of Solar To Slow

While the cost of solar has been ever-changing in the solar power industry, the pace of this change is starting to slow.

What’s beginning to happen in the solar industry is what has happened to many other industries; maturation has led to massive and rather quick reductions in the costs of producing goods while reductions in marketing and service costs occurred at a much slower pace. It’s quite amazing to consider the fact that the cost of producing solar panels is about one-hundredth of what it used to cost; a reduction from about $70/watt to about $0.70/watt. Other costs involved with going solar have not fallen nearly as much.

As can be seen from the cost of solar page, the average cost to go solar with an affordable installer is approximately $3.00/watt in early 2017. Not too long ago, equipment costs alone were $3.00/watt, now they are approximately half of that figure. How much further down can the cost of panels and other necessary solar equipment go from here? The answer is – not much.

Smaller and regional solar installers have also found ways to reduce their customer acquisition, overhead, and labor costs. However, these costs have not come down nearly as quick as the cost of solar panels have in, say, the past 10 years since solar has begun to be adopted in good numbers.

The following graph from GreenTech Media and The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) shows pricing changes in solar since 2001.
cost of solar breakdown
As can be seen from the graphic, Modules and Inverters decreased rapidly as a percentage of the total cost of installing solar while Racking and Labor increased as a total percentage of costs over the years. The cost of installing solar decreased in all categories, however, Labor and other Overhead costs did not decrease as rapidly. This also means that installers’ profit margins are being increasingly squeezed.

Some predict that the average industry-wide cost of going solar at the residential scale will be about $2.50/watt in the early 2020’s, which means some installers may be slightly cheaper. This brings the per kilowatt hour cost of solar down to as low as $0.05/kWh, not much cheaper than the $0.06-$0.08/kWh possible right now. Sure, it’s the difference in paying $15,000 for a solar panel system instead of $12,500. However, going solar now can offer more savings than waiting a few years for prices to drop a little further.

The most exciting changes to happen to the renewable energy industry in the coming years will occur in the energy storage space. Price reductions for energy storage systems will undoubtedly occur as this technology becomes adopted and energy companies seek more innovation and at the very least, incremental improvements. These cost reductions may not be as significant as we’ve seen with solar cells, but they’re on the way nonetheless. This will all add up to a situation in which it makes financial sense to have battery backed-up solar power in every home.

Much like 2016, 2017 should prove to be another great year for the solar power industry. Prices are starting level off. Homeowners and business owners all across America are becoming increasingly aware of the truly enormous economic value inherent in solar power.

The Solar Workforce Saw Considerable Growth In 2016

The Solar Foundation recently released its National Solar Jobs Census 2016 which detailed some impressive workforce numbers.

2016 was another banner year for the solar industry. The industry has proven once again that it is a steadily growing source of well-respected and high-paying jobs.
solar pv installations
Let’s consider some notable highlights from the report –

  • There were more than 51,000 workers added to the solar industry bringing the total number to 260,077.
  • One out of every 50 jobs added in the U.S. in 2016 was a solar job.
  • For the past 4 years, solar jobs have increased 20 percent and tripled since 2010.
  • The solar industry created jobs 17 time faster than the rest of the economy. Median pay for these jobs is $26/hour.
  • More than twice as many people have a solar job compared with coal workers. There are approximately the same number of workers in the solar industry as in the natural gas industry.
  • Women now hold close to 28 percent of solar jobs. Veterans, Latinos/Hispanics, and African Americans also represent respectable percentages of the industry.

An impressive 44 out of 50 states experienced growth in the number of solar jobs available. This shows that solar is really starting to expand all across the country. The top states for solar jobs in 2016 were California, Massachusetts, Texas, Nevada, and Florida.

“In 2016, we saw a dramatic increase in the solar workforce across the nation, thanks to a rapid decrease in the cost of solar panels and unprecedented consumer demand for solar installations. More than ever, its’ clear that solar energy is a low-cost, reliable, super-abundant American energy source that is driving economic growth, strengthening businesses, and making our cities smarter and more resilient.” – Andrea Luecke – President and Executive Director of The Solar Foundation. Andrea also stressed the amazing fact that solar jobs have tripled since 2010 leading to the hundreds of thousands of jobs currently held in the industry.

Another important item of note pertains to the overall robust nature of the solar industry – growth occurred in all job sectors. Installation jobs are now at a total of 137,133 – a 14 percent increase for last year. There are now 34,400 jobs in project development. This represents a 53 percent increase. Manufacturing jobs grew to 38,121 which correlates to a growth rate of 26 percent. Finally, sales and distribution jobs increased to a total of 32,147, a 32 percent improvement.

The underlying driving force for this considerable growth trend in the solar industry pertains to favorable cost figures. Solar power is now very cost effective – it’s either at parity or now cheaper than competing sources of energy all across the country. Of course, this is just a starting point, utility regulations have been and will continue to be a hurdle. Businesses have also had to adopt structures that allow them to compete in the marketplace while seeking growth at the same time.

With another great solar year in the books, we can take another look at the big picture. The fact remains that solar power still represents a very small share of total electricity production in America. This is great news for solar advocates in that we can all look forward to much more solar power in the not too distant future!

U.S. Solar Market Has Biggest Quarter Ever

The United States Solar Market just finished an amazing third quarter. In fact, the third quarter 2016 saw the most solar installed compared to any one previously.

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, 4,143 megawatts of solar PV were installed in Q3. This breaks down to about 2 megawatts per hour, an impressive pace compared to previous installation rates and a sign of where the industry has come. There’s also much solar in the “pipeline” so these impressive numbers will continue.

“The solar market now enjoys an economically-winning hand that pays off both financially and environmentally, and American taxpayers have noticed.” – Tom Kimbis (SEIA’s interim president). In fact, more than 200,000 solar jobs that have been created due to solar’s rapid ascent.
solar pv installations
By far the largest segment of this solar growth story is utility scale solar. Utility solar accounted for 77 percent of new installations for Q3. Amazingly, more utility scale solar is expected to be completed in Q4 of this year than in all of 2015.

The non-residential market (community and commercial) accounted for 375 megawatts, its second largest quarter. However, this only represents a moderate growth figure compared to recent quarters.

The residential segment managed to still do more than 500 megawatts, yet slowed down a bit compared to recent, peak quarters. This slowdown is primarily due to maturation in markets like California, rate reforms, and the (most likely temporary) ending of net metering in Nevada.

As a whole, the solar industry has come a long way. By the end of 2013, the U.S. had a total of 10 gigawatts of solar PV installed. It is predicted that 2016 will be responsible for about 14 gigawatts of solar alone. This is 88 percent more than last year’s total.

While these numbers are impressive, we’ve just hit the tip of the iceberg as far as solar’s potential is concerned. Those in the industry know that we still have a long way to go before solar power provides a major portion of the country’s electricity needs. Undoubtedly, the residential solar market will pick up speed again as homeowners continue to demand fair access to low cost solar power.

So here’s to an even better solar power industry in the new year, 2017!

Purchased Solar Will Be More Common Than Leasing In 2017

A recent article by GTM Research predicts that solar leases and PPAs will be replaced by solar systems purchased outright by homeowners.

According to the data, solar leases saw its dominance peak in 2014, representing approximately 72 percent of all installed residential solar for that year. However, next year will see cash purchases or loans taken out by those who wish to go solar at a higher percentage than leases.

See the graphic below that shows the decline in leasing through 2021.
solar lease decline trend
The report sights two primary factors for this changing solar financing landscape; the quicker growth of local companies and the decrease in the cost of solar. Also, many of the larger solar leasing companies have been struggling of late.

Another bonus for homeowners as they move away from leasing is the abundance of financing options that currently exist. There’s never been more options for those looking for a solar loan.

The math just doesn’t make sense for leasing. It never really did. Leasing companies used scare tactics and obfuscation to seal their expensive deals. This news really did not come as a surprise as Solar Power Now has taken a stand against solar leases for years now. Leasing has always been, by far, the most expensive way to go solar.

On a whole, this is great news for the industry. Residential solar will continue to expand. The primary change being that the smaller companies will continue to cut into the market share of the large solar leasing outfits.

A decrease in the overall cost of solar has had the industry seeing more outright cash purchases, or at least a good percentage with significant down payments. Return on investments still look good after some minimal finance charges are accounted for.

We can all look forward to a much more level solar playing field in terms of both installation services and financing options.

More Than 2 Gigawatts Of Solar Power Added In Q2

The U.S. solar power industry continues to expand at an impressive pace. More than 2 gigawatts of solar power was installed in the second quarter of 2016 alone.

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association in conjunction with GreenTech Media, the utility, commercial, and residential solar industries managed to install 2,051 megawatts of solar photovoltaics for the second quarter of this year. This was a very respectable 43 percent more than Q2 of 2015.

Even more amazing is the fact that more solar power is expected to be installed by the end of this year that has ever been completed in a single year. That figure includes approximately another 8 gigawatts. It appears the trend in solar is acceleration rather than just keeping pace.

The following image, thanks to SEIA/GTM Research, highlights solar’s incredible expansion through the past 5 years.
solar power growth trend
In addition to the very notable milestone of 1 million residential installations completed earlier this year, the utility solar industry is also picking up the pace as well. In fact, 53 percent of all solar installed so far this year was utility-scale.

Tom Kimbis, SEIA’s interim president had this to say of these recent solar developments – “Solar works in all 50 states, and this report proves that what many would consider non-traditional markets are now firmly a part of the clean energy movement. While it took us 40 years to hit 1 million U.S. solar installations, we’re expecting to hit 2 million within the next two years. That record-breaking growth is made possible by solar’s cost competitiveness and the vast benefits it provides consumers, our nation’s economy and environment.”

American has now installed more than 30 gigawatts of solar power. Much of that has come in recent years and the trends show that much more will follow real soon.

Here’s a few more bullet points for the recent advancements in the solar industry –

  • With 650 megawatts for 2016, residential solar grew 29 percent compared to 2015.
  • More than 1 gigawatt of utility-scale solar was completed for the third quarter in a row.
  • Solar prices are 18 percent lower than they were in 2015.
  • 70 percent of new capacity this year will come from utility-scale solar, with a total of 13.9 gigawatts for all market segments by the end of the year.

It’s fair to say that even with all of this substantial solar activity, we are still very early days for this industry. Solar has yet to be adopted in every corner of the country and in significant ways as well. After all, it still supplies a very small percentage of the country’s total electricity needs. However, if the surge in solar power adoption continues, it will become a major player in the energy industry before too long.

So here’s to another very optimistic solar report. There’s much more good solar news on the way!

Solar Power And Cloudy Days

A question that many people have when first considering solar power is – Do solar panels work during cloudy days? Let’s delve into this question and discover the big picture involved.

To answer the question, yes, solar panels do work during cloudy weather, however the energy output can be cut drastically. On really dark and gloomy days, solar panel output can be cut down to as little as 5 to 10 percent. Solar panels can still produce energy when the sun is not out because there is still a small amount of visible and infrared light that gets captured by panels.
clouds and solar panels
Since such a high percentage of those that have gone solar are still connected to the grid, cloudy days do not have an effect on whether or not those homeowners have access to electricity. They are simply drawing much more energy from the grid on days when there isn’t much sunshine.

A better, “big picture”, question would be to ask – “On average, how many cloudy days does my area get in a given year?” The answer, no matter where you live, is not too many. This is because there’s plenty of sunshine available throughout a given year in any part of the country for solar to make sense. In fact, Germany is the leader in solar power adoption while having more cloudy days than just about anywhere in the United States. As can be seen in the following image, a very high percentage of the homes in the U.S. have enough available rooftop space to access at least 1,600 kilowatt-hours of energy per year, while Germany gets only about 1,200 kilowatt-hours per year per home.us solar insolation compared to germany

An abundance of cloudy days can have an effect on payback range. In relatively sunny, high-priced electricity areas of the country, the payback range for a solar panel system can be as little as a few years. In cloudier areas, it can be much closer to 10 years before a system has paid for itself.

Another misconception is that really warm and sunny parts of the country, like the southwest, are the best locales for solar power. This isn’t necessarily true. Electronics, in general, do not work as efficiently in hot climates. So a solar panel system located in a desert climate might be exposed to more days of sunlight, yet solar panel efficiency can suffer during days of excessive heat.

It’s good to know that the occasional cloudy day won’t be stopping the solar power revolution. One of the major changes that we’ll see in the coming years is that instead of the grid supplying energy, homeowners will get much of their back up power from home energy storage systems.

Hopefully those who live in cloudier environments will soon learn that solar power is still a good choice for them and ultimately make the switch.

The Hottest Solar Zip Codes In California

Anyone familiar at all with solar power in America knows that California is the leader in solar adoption. The specific locales, however, might not be as well known. The following post, inspired by a recent EcoWatch.com article, will detail exactly where solar is booming in the Golden State.

Any article about solar energy in California should start with the fact that former Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, helped launch the solar boom with the Go Solar California! campaign. This campaign, launched in 2004, set a goal of 1 million solar roofs by 2018. While the campaign might fall short of a million by 2018, the more than half a million total installs so far is a testament to how far solar adoption has come.

Data from the Center for Sustainable Energy (CSE) was drawn upon to discover not only the most solar friendly cities in California, but also the “hottest” solar zip codes.

San Diego County is the official solar power leader of the state. According to CSE, the county has approximately 76,239 homes that have gone solar. An incredible 1 out of every 8 single family homes has solar.

Even more incredibly, the graphic below shows that the top 10 solar zip codes have a solar adoption rate of more than 20 percent on average. This amazing saturation rate means that, in some neighborhoods, 1 out of every 4 homes has a solar panel installation.
solar one plant
The study also mentioned that it’s still early days concerning how a home with a solar panel system will sell. Realtors’ MLS tool still does not include solar power information on listings. However, it is becoming common knowledge that a solar power system adds at least $15,000 to a home’s value, on average. While future sales of solar homes are sure to be quicker if they are owned outright, a recent survey by Berkeley Lab found that sales of homes with solar leases went smoothly.

While California is still, by far, the leading installer of solar panel systems, there’s nothing to stop most of the rest of the country from catching up. For example, there’s no longer any state-based incentives for solar in the Golden State. The same federal tax credit that all 50 states are offered is the only subsidy in California. Many states currently have very solar-friendly policies. It’s lack of awareness that prevents many from realizing the benefits of solar power.

The good news is that word will eventually spread and we’ll see many more solar rooftops all across America real soon.

6 Million Homes Are Now Powered By Solar In California

Utility-scale solar is starting to become a major presence in California. In fact, a record 6 million homes are now being supplied with solar power throughout the state.

July 12th, 2016 saw one of the largest productions of solar electricity at just over 8 gigawatts. This is considerably more than what was produced in May, which also impressively saw a bit more than 50 percent of demand delivered by large solar farms.
solar one plant
This impressive record does not take into account the more than half million solar panel systems installed on homes and businesses. With some averages assumed, this adds approximately another 12.5 gigawatts of solar energy produced daily.

The state continues to support legislation that guarantees that renewable energy is an important and growing part of its future. For example, by 2030, 50 percent of all electricity generated by state owned utilities must be from renewable sources.

As it currently stands, solar still needs much help from wind and hydro. This is because solar energy production begins to taper off in the hours before dusk. At the same time, energy demand increases as most people get home from work. Wind and hydro will get much needed help from energy storage technologies in the not too distant future.

While solar still represents a small percentage of total electricity production nationwide, there’s plenty of reasons for optimism. Solar has grown quickly in a handful of states and the others will follow suit real soon. The decisions made by states to make solar financially unfavorable through unfair fees and net metering changes will be overturned by the will of the people. Cost effective energy storage will also play a significant role in the future dominance of solar power.

So congratulations California! As the world’s sixth largest economy, its embrace of solar power can not be understated. Other states and the world as a whole are now much more aware of how truly valuable a solar powered society is. Many others will follow California’s lead real soon.

Clean Energy Savings For All Initiative Announced

In its continuing effort to promote solar power, The White house has just announced the Clean Energy Savings for All Initiative.

This latest announcement by the Obama Administration follows up numerous previous actions to help ensure that the implementation of solar power across the nation continues its upward trajectory.
de shaw solar
The initiative focuses heavily on making access to solar power more available to the average American. A centerpiece of this idea is a goal of providing 1 gigawatt of solar energy to middle and lower income families by 2020. Incredibly, this goal is 10 times the amount that the original figure was. This is yet just another sign that solar’s time is finally here.

Some key items of the initiative are as follows –

  • Further Expansion of PACE – PACE (Property-Assessed Clean Energy) is the most prominent government based finance mechanism to help make solar more accessible. Under this new initiative, PACE will be utilized more extensively by Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Federal Housing Administration.
  • Community Solar Challenge – The Department of Energy’s program to award local teams up to $100,000 to help implement more use of solar power and also help communities reduce their energy use.
  • Low Income Housing Energy Assistance Program – promoted by Health and Human Services and the Department of Energy to connect LIHEAP grantees to hundreds of millions of dollars to gain more access to solar.
  • Solar Training Network – The Department of Energy is also helping spur the solar revolution by connecting more people to jobs in the solar industry.
  • Enabling Local Housing Authorities – Organizations across 36 states, including at least 120 housing authorities, electric co-ops, and power companies are committing more than $287 million for at least 280 megawatts of solar projects focused on enabling more access to low and moderate income communities.

Along with the massive solar expansion already achieved by the private sector, this initiative will help ensure that solar power’s future is bright for many years to come.

As been stated many times before, the underlying force responsible for solar’s growth in both the public and private sector is simply it’s current cost effectiveness. Solar will only grow even more as it becomes even less expensive in the future.