US Solar Breaks Another Record

The United States solar industry can proudly say that it has yet broken another record. For the first time, solar power production accounted for more than 50 percent of all new electricity, one of the key achievements of 2023, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. Increase production across all sectors helped make this record possible with numbers including 77%, 19%, and 12% improvements in utility, commercial, and residential, respectively. 2023 was the first year that American solar workers installed more than 30 Gigawatts of solar capacity finishing up at 32 GW.

A notable part of this story is the fact that Texas, for only the second time, installed more solar than California in a year. This was largely due to large utility scale projects in which the state installed 4 Gigawatts in the last quarter of 2023 alone. Texas ended the year with a total of 6.5 GW of installed solar capacity. Correspondingly, coal production fell to below 10 percent and was surpassed by solar.

However, the residential solar industry is expecting to contract slightly by the end of 2024, largely due to recent changes in California’s net metering policies. The new NEM 3.0, or Net Billing, drastically reduces what utilities in the state will offer for electricity that solar power owners send to the grid. Under previous net metering programs, homeowners would receive full retail rates as compensation for their excess power production. The new Net Billing program basically offers the “avoided cost rate”, which is approximately 70 percent less than what was offered before. In fact, the SEIA is expecting a 13 percent reduction in residential solar business for 2024 compared the previous year.

On a more positive note, the industry is forecasting a quick rebound. Taking the SEIA’s base case predictions (right in between bear and bull case), 2025 will see the residential sector grow by 13 percent, erasing the same amount that it is expected to decline by the end of this year. Steady growth is expected the following years with an average of about 5 percent per year through 2034, adding more than 100 Gigawatts of power. This positive forecast assumes improvements in supply chains, interconnection capabilities, and lower interest rates, to name some of the primary factors.

All in all, this recent market report from the SEIA shows the resilient nature of the solar power industry. While there can be industry “hiccups” along the way, the trend line remains the same for solar, it will remain upward bound.

Apple To Use Tesla Batteries At Solar Plant

Apple has recently announced that it is planning a large battery installation project at its solar farm in Northern California.

The solar farm is called The California Flats Solar Project. It’s located in southeastern Monterey County. Built by a subsidiary of First Solar, this solar power plant boasts an impressive size of 280 Megawatts and was completed in 2019. The power generated by this farm is purchased by both Apple and Pacific Gas and Electric.

California Flats Solar Project. Courtesy – Apple

While it has not yet been publicly announced that Apple is purchasing battery systems from Tesla for this project, this information leak comes from documents sent to the Monterey County Board of Supervisors. More specifically, Tesla is selling their “Megapack” battery system. This is their utility size energy storage system. According to the documents, there will be 85 Megapacks supplied offering a total of 240 Megawatts of storage capabilities.

Tesla Megapack: Courtesy – Tesla

“The challenge with clean energy — solar and wind — is that it’s by definition intermittent,” – Apple VP Lisa Jackson said “If we can do it, and we can show that it works for us, it takes away the concerns about intermittency and it helps the grid in terms of stabilization. It’s something that can be imitated or built upon by other companies.”

It has been estimated that monetary value of this battery storage project is more than $50 million. That’s certainly significant business that Apple is giving Tesla despite their ongoing talent acquisition rivalry. It’s also a sign that Tesla is still the leader in the energy storage industry, and probably will be for some time to come.

This is certainly a smart and important project for Apple. The company knows that not only is battery storage a vital part of the transition to sustainable energy, but it also just makes good business sense. They’ve done the math and have seen the savings they will realize over the long term. Also, like Apple VP Mrs. Jackson mentioned, this is good PR for the company and shows the company taking the lead on actions that other companies can now more confidently take.

DOE Announces Plan To Further Cut Cost Of Solar

The U.S. Department of Energy has just announced a plan to cut the cost of solar power 60 percent by 2030.

The plan includes $128 million in funding to accelerate the adoption of solar, improve solar panel performance, and lower the overall costs of implementing solar. “This burst of funding will help us add even more affordable clean energy to the grid, jobs to communities across the country, and will put us on the fast track toward President Biden’s goal of 100% clean electricity by 2035” – Jennifer M. Granholm (Secretary of Energy).

This plan is a key element of the nation’s goal of achieving a 100 percent clean electricity grid by 2035. To help make this possible, the D.O.E. is looking to reduce the cost of utility scale solar electricity from 4.6 cents per kilowatt-hour to 2 cents per-kilowatt hour by 2030. This reduction in the price of solar power has significant implications. This will help enable between 30 and 50 percent of the country’s electricity needs to be met by solar power alone by 2035.

Here’s a breakdown of the primary ways in which the funding will be spent –

  • There will be $40 million spent on Perovskite R&D. Perovskites are a newer type of materials that show promise in making thin-film solar cells that have high efficiency ratings. The funding will be dispersed among 22 different projects.
  • Another $33 million will be allocated to increased reliability in Concentrated Solar Power technologies. This type of solar power is created by a large array of mirrors reflecting light at a receiver on a tower. The subsequent heat is utilized to drive a steam turbine to create electricity. A unique advantage and feature of CSP plants is that they can utilize molten salt to store power for use at a later time.
  • Further developments in CSP plants will be possible through an additional $25 million in funding. Researches will be able to use this money to develop the next generation of CSP plants.
  • $20 million will be used for increased developments in CdTe thin film technologies. CdTe is short for Cadmium telluride. This crystalline compound has already shown its ability to produce extremely cost effective solar cells. The funding will increase the the amount of CdTe solar panels produced in the U.S which already stands at about 20 percent of the market.
  • $7 million will be used to increase the longevity of solar panel systems. The goal is to make the new standard 50 years instead of the current expected useful life of 30 years.
  • Finally another $3 million will be allocated to a Perovskite Startup Prize. This will take the form of seed capital for companies looking to use this specific solar technology to create a business.

It should be noted that this news bulletin from the D.O.E. is largely pertaining to utility scale solar. Cost reductions in solar power have different trajectories based on the scale involved. In other words, residential solar may not see the same price reduction over the next 10 years. Sure, prices for solar components will continue to decrease, though by much lower amounts and there are different costs involve for home solar.

The bottom line is that while this is good news for our overall transition to a clean energy society, this will not have a dramatic effect on residential solar. The best time for homeowners to go solar is now. Expecting solar prices to come down significantly in the coming years is not that likely. Homeowners who start saving with solar power now will actually save more money over the long term than by waiting for further price reductions.

Solar Industry Sets Records For 2020

Despite the Covid 19 Pandemic, the U.S. solar market experienced significant growth in 2020.

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the industry grew by 43 percent and installed more than 19 gigawatts of solar electric capacity in 2020. Also notable is the fact that, for the second year in a row, solar power was the largest source of new electric-generating capacity.

Seia new electric capacity
SEIA – Past 10 Years New Electric Capacity Trend

“After a slowdown in Q2 due to the pandemic, the solar industry innovated and came roaring back to continue our trajectory as America’s leading source of new energy,” – SEIA president Abigail Ross Hopper. Case in point is the fact that 4th quarter of 2020 saw the most solar installed compared to any prior quarter on record. 2020 beats the previous best year for solar, 2016, by almost 5 gigawatts.

Some of the key figures from SEIA’s report include;

  • The extension of the 26 percent Investment Tax Credit has lead to a 17 percent increase in the expected amount of solar to be installed from 2021-2025.
  • The final quarter of business in 2020 saw an impressive 6 gigawatts of industrial scale solar installed. This is part of a significant 69 gigawatts of utility scale solar projects currently in the pipeline.
  • Residential solar saw an increase of 11 percent over 2019 with 3.1 gigawatts installed. This is rather impressive considering the initial slow down due to the pandemic.

This amazing growth trend is predicted to continue over the next 10 years. It is expected that in that time period, the U.S. will add 324 gigawatts of solar capacity, bringing the overall total installed capacity to 419 gigawatts. To put this into perspective, this predicted growth will have the upcoming decade responsible for almost 80 percent of total installed solar by 2030.

Now, more than ever, word is beginning to spread that solar power truly is affordable. Not only is it very affordable, but homeowners everywhere are starting to realize how much they can save by going solar. This news is a very large part of the amazing year that we just saw for solar energy in the U.S. It’s also why the SEIA and many other solar organizations are expecting an accelerated adoption of solar at all scales in the coming years.

The DOE Announces $125 Million In New Solar Funding

The U.S. Department of Energy made an announcement today, the 5th of February, that it is investing $125.5 million in support of further improvements in solar power and other renewable energy technologies.

This investment will, more specifically, go towards improving the reliability of the nation’s grid, creating a more robust American manufacturing environment, and helping to further reduce the cost of solar.

“We’re excited about these new funding opportunities for renewable power, transportation, energy efficiency, and manufacturing. We look forward to working with the National Labs and private sector partners to advance clean, affordable, and reliable energy for American families and businesses.” – Daniel R. Simmons – Assistant Secretary of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

The key objectives include:

  • Photovoltaics (PV) Hardware Research – $15 million for 8-12 projects that aim to extend PV system lifetimes and reduce hardware costs of solar systems made of silicon solar cells, as well as new technologies like thin-film, tandem, and perovskite solar cells.
  • Integrated Thermal Energy Storage and Brayton Cycle Equipment Demonstration (Integrated TESTBED) – $39 million for 1-2 projects that will develop a test site to accelerate the commercialization of supercritical carbon dioxide power cycles, a key component of low-cost concentrating solar power plants.
  • Solar Energy Evolution and Diffusion Studies 3 (SEEDS 3) – $10 million for 6-8 projects that will examine how information flows to stakeholders to enable more efficient decision-making about solar and other emerging technologies, such as energy storage.
  • Innovations in Manufacturing: Hardware Incubator – $14 million for 7-9 projects that will advance innovative product ideas from a prototype to a pre-commercial stage, with an aim for products that support a strong U.S. solar manufacturing sector and supply chain.
  • Systems Integration –  $30 million for 7-11 projects that will develop resilient community microgrids to maintain power during and restore power after man-made or natural disasters, improve cybersecurity for PV inverters and power systems, and develop advanced hybrid plants that operate collaboratively with other resources for improved reliability and resilience.
  • Solar and Agriculture: System Design, Value Frameworks, and Impacts Analysis – $6.5 million for 4-6 projects that will advance the technologies, research, and practices necessary for farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural enterprises to co-locate solar and agriculture.
  • Artificial Intelligence Applications in Solar Energy with Emphasis on Machine Learning – $6 million for 8-12 projects that encourage partnerships between experts in AI and solar industry stakeholders to develop disruptive solutions across the value chain of the solar industry.
  • Small Innovative Projects in Solar (SIPS): PV and Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) – $5 million for 15-20 projects that advance innovative and novel ideas in PV and CSP that can produce significant results within the first year of performance. 

While an initial response to this announcement should be positive, it’s also worth noting that the current administration has not exactly been the most supportive of the renewable energy industry. In fact, they are big supporters of trying to bring back coal (which won’t happen) and being generally favorable to the fossil fuel industry. It can also be said that $125 million is a very small amount considering the total yearly available budget.

The big picture is that the solar industry is ripe for massive expansion as it is right now. Prices are low and the technology is ready to go. Sure, further improvements will only encourage expansion of renewable energy projects, but what is really needed is promotion. Many simply are still not aware of how much it makes sense to go solar right now.

Here’s to further support for the solar industry, and more importantly, the implementation of solar projects right now!

2020 Will Be A Record Year For Solar

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) is predicting a stellar year for solar power in 2020.

A total of 24 Gigawatts of solar is expected to come online by the end of the year, according to the US Department of Energy’s EIA. This is impressively 60 percent more than 2016’s record year (15 GW). While the majority of this new solar capacity is at the utility scale (17.4 GW), 6.6 GW of small scale solar is nothing to scoff at!

It’s also worth noting that a significant amount of wind power will be installed by the end of the year as well. The EIA is predicting about 18 GW.

US Energy Information Administration

This momentum is expected to carry over to next year with an estimated 26 GW of new solar capacity for 2021.

The renewable energy tax credit has certainly had significant effects on the solar industry. More specifically, it helped nudge the industry to that record year in 2016 and also conversely we saw a slow down after that year as many had already utilized the credit. The credit is 26 percent this year and gets lowered to 22 percent next year, which is the last year for the credit to be utilized at the residential level. This will certainly help keep the residential solar industry strong, especially next year as homeowners look to take advantage of the credit before it disappears.

Unsurprisingly, this impressive upcoming renewable energy boom coincides with a decline in new fossil fuel expansion. Wind and solar power continue to lessen our need and reliance on dirty fossil fuels.

Just as important as an increase in the capacity of renewable energy is, the further use of energy storage is vital as well. The good news is that energy storage applications are expected to be deployed at all scales in significant volumes in the coming years.

While some may see the tax credit as being central to the rise in solar power usage, its actually a smaller part of the big picture. The big picture is that the cost of solar is, and has been for some years, very favorable compared with conventional energy. Costs have continued to fall, albeit more slowly, as they begin to level off. Further decreases in the cost of energy storage will have many homeowners, businesses, and power companies fully embracing solar plus storage solutions in the coming years!

It’s exciting times for fans of renewable energy!

Homeowners Are Warming Up To Solar

A recent Pew Research Center survey shows that homeowners across the U.S. are showing much higher interest in solar power.

The overall awareness of residential solar is certainly nothing new. Over the past 10 years or so, rooftop solar panels have become an increasingly common sight in many cities across America. However, solar adoption rates have seen a significant uptick in recent years.

According to this Pew Research Center article, since 2016, some areas of the country have seen a 20 percent increase in solar adoption, with the nation as a whole showing 6 percent more solar activity. The bulk of the article goes into details on the political divide concerning climate change.

Pew Research Center

Perhaps the most astonishing figure is that 46 percent of Americans have “given serious thought about installing solar panels on their homes in the last year.”

It’s not difficult to determine what is affecting this increase interest in solar power. If people are presented with a way to save money, they’ll take it. 96 percent of people polled said that saving money on their utility bills was the primary reason why they’d consider going solar. An impressive 87 percent said that environmental reasons were also a factor.

This newfound love for solar power is not evenly distributed around the nation, of course. Every state has different policies in place concerning solar and local opinions can vary as well. While the Pacific, North East, and Mountain states are, by now, solar veterans, other areas are catching up. Solar adoption has increased significantly in southern states. Solar is now cheap enough to make it attractive in the not-always-sunny North West.

Again, this rather noticeable increase in the positive way that solar power is viewed is largely due to the cost of solar. The word is finally spreading that installing solar power on a home is a wise financial decision. The truth is that, as much as the average person would like protect the environment, unless its economically feasible it’s not likely to happen.

Many upcoming solar installations will also include energy storage as solar plus storage becomes economically attractive as well. This will help assuage any homeowners that are concerned about their local utility playing games with net metering policies. Home energy storage leaves homeowners in full control of their energy costs.

Word will continue to spread about how great of an idea going solar is!

The Confusion Surrounding Solar Potential

There still seems to be plenty of confusion and doubt concerning the ability of the sun to provide sufficient energy in certain parts of the continental United States.

The technical term for the amount of available solar energy reaching the surface of the planet is called solar irradiation. While the amount of solar irradiation is less in more northern parts of the country, there’s still plenty available to make solar viable.

Unfortunately, some of this confusion comes directly from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. In the following two images, the NREL’s makes it appear like the potential solar irradiance drops off significantly for parts of the country that are not in the South West. The reality of the matter, which can be seen from an image on the right provided by William Driscoll from PV Magazine USA, shows that a good percentage of the solar potential is still available across the U.S. In fact, other parts of the country have at least 70 percent of what the South West has.

William Driscoll

To put this massive solar potential another way, only a 160 square kilometer piece of land would be required to provide enough power for the whole country. That’s a very tiny percentage of the total land available. Of course, one of the great things about solar is that it is easily distributable. Obviously, solar power plants can be built virtually anywhere. The point here is to highlight the fact that space is not an issue as we transition to a solar plus battery storage energy infrastructure.

From a practical perspective, homeowners in the more northern states would require an extra solar panel or two to match the amount of energy captured in the southern states. Is this significantly more expensive? Not at all, this would add approximately $300 to $600 to the total cost.

The, on average, cooler northern states actually have an advantage over some of the hotter parts of the country. The reason is that many electronics, including solar panels, are slightly less efficient in hotter temperatures. Solar panel systems require light, not heat.

In summary, the United States has an incredible potential for the expansion of its use of solar energy. We are still early days for our transition to renewable energy. Those homeowners, businesses, and utilities that decide to invest in solar power now will find that they can build solar systems to provide all of the power they need. Starting now will have them saving money sooner than later too!

Renewables To Surpass Coal By 2021

It’s not a good time to be in the coal business.

Based on current trends, sources of renewable energy should surpass energy produced by coal in the United States by the end of 2021.

A recent CNN article goes into details on this inevitable transition. CNN’s information was derived from the Institute of Energy Economic and Financial Analysis (IEEFA).

Image credit: Annette Gibbs

Coal’s impending demise is mostly due to competing energy sources, namely, natural gas. However, wind and solar power have grown at rapid rates making the role of natural gas as being a “bridge fuel.” Also, aging coal plants and pressure from environmental concerns are speeding up the demise of coal plants across the country.

PJ Deschenes, a partner at Greentech Capital Advisors, (an investment bank with expertise on clean energy) had this to say about this energy transition – “The next piece of the energy transition is very close at hand. Coal is coming offline as fast or faster than anticipated.”

To shed light on how quickly this transition is occurring, its notable that coal actually provided the country with half of its energy needs between 2000 and 2010. Natural gas replaced coal as the most used energy source in 2016. While the natural gas boom was occurring, renewable energy started to experience major growth as well.

Case in point is the fact that Murray Energy, the largest private coal mining company in the U.S., declared bankruptcy just last month. Also, Navajo Generation Station, the largest coal plant in the West, just closed down for good. The pace and size of coal plants being shut down is something hard to ignore. This massive transition is happening at a pace that is surprising to many in the energy industry.

In fact, it is expected that the country’s use of coal will fall from 28 percent in 2018 to 22 percent in 2020. The “crossover” year is predicted to occur by 2021, according to Dennis Wamsted, analyst at the IEEFA. He expects sources of renewable energy to overtake coal, at the very latest, by 2022.

Another notable example this transition already occurring can be seen in the Lone Star State. Not long ago, coal reigned supreme in Texas. However, in recent years, there have been major wind farms put to use. So much so that wind now accounts for 22 percent of the state’s energy needs, while coal currently supplies 21 percent.

What’s the underlying impetus here? Economics, of course. The cost of solar power and wind power are financially very attractive. Otherwise, this energy transition would not be happening nearly as quickly as we are witnessing.

Of course, a major part of the renewable energy story must include energy storage. Reliable and sufficient energy storage systems must be in place for when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining. The good news is that prices for energy storage are falling quickly as well.

It won’t be much longer before wind and solar power are the new kings of energy production!

A New Solar Breakthrough Shows Promise For Industrial Use

There has been a recent breakthrough in solar power technology that has major implications for industry. The energy required to produce steel and cement can now be solar powered.

Heliogen, the company revealing this new solar capability, came out of “stealth mode” this past Tuesday, November 19th with this announcement.

The overall solar technology involved here is nothing new. It’s called Concentrated Solar Power. It works by using mirrors to concentrate sunlight on a single area, in which typically a steam turbine utilizes the available heat present.


The specific breakthrough that the company has achieved is to be able to produce temperatures much higher than before. The initial temperature achieved is 1,000 degrees Celsius. The company is confident that it will be able to produces higher temperatures in the near future as well.

Backed by billionaires Bill Gates and Patrick Soon-Shiong, Heliogen’s technology shows real promise to be able to offer a green solution to industrial processes that account for 20 percent of the the worlds carbon emissions. Up until now, sources of renewable energy have not been able to produce energy at sufficient energy levels. In part, the technology utilizes artificial intelligence to enable constant pin-point accuracy for concentrating the light.

“Heliogen represents a technological leap forward in addressing the other 75 percent of energy demand: The use of fossil fuels for industrial processes and transportation. With low cost, ultra high temperature process heat, we have an opportunity to make meaningful contributions to solving the climate crisis.” – CEO Bill Gross.

It’s still early stages for the company and technology, but in time it can be scaled to offer a complete energy solution as it will be combined with emerging energy storage technologies.

One argument of solar detractors over the years has been that fossil fuels will always be required for the production of energy intensive processes like the creation of steel. This new solar breakthrough puts that argument to rest.

The power of the sun is continuing to to show its potential to eventually become our primary source of energy. Saying that it is just a matter of time before solar power will be our energy leader is becoming a safer and safer bet!