Solar installations set record in 2016, nearly doubling previous mark

By Bret Fanshaw
Solar Program Coordinator

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Solar is booming.

Photo credit: Dennis Schroder / NREL


Yesterday, Greentech Media (GTM) Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) released a preview of their upcoming U.S. Solar Market Insight Report, and the numbers are stunning. Not only did solar break the annual record for amount of photovoltaics (PV) installed, it shattered it. In 2016, 14,626 megawatts (MW) of solar were installed in the United States. 2015, the previous record, saw 7,493 MW installed. That’s a 95 percent increase, or in other words, nearly double.

Source: GTM Research / SEIA U.S. Solar Market Insight Report
 

This latest news is part of a consistent and remarkable trend of solar shattering records and expectations seemingly every quarter, with little sign of slowing down. To quickly recap 2016: in February, we welcomed the millionth solar installation in the U.S., and it finished the year as the number one source of new electricity added to the grid, making up 39 percent of all added capacity. Costs plummeted nearly 20 percent through the third quarter, and have come down 62 percent over the last five years. Finally, over 260,000 Americans currently spend the majority of their time working in the solar industry, and the number of folks who spend some portion of time working in solar is as high as 373,000.

The U.S. now has 1.3 million solar installations, and a cumulative capacity of over 40 gigawatts (GW) — enough to power more than 6,500,000 homes (using SEIA’s calculation that 1 MW of solar powers 164 homes).

Sometimes we sound like a broken record when it comes to solar energy’s milestones. However, threats to its success remain as formidable as ever. As we outline in our Blocking the Sun report, powerful fossil fuel interests and utilities are waging campaigns nationwide to undermine solar’s progress.

Unfortunately, in some cases, these groups have been successful in rolling back benefits to going solar. In December, for example, Arizona regulators voted to substantially curtail the state’s net metering policy, which credits solar customers fairly for the extra solar power they generate at their homes. More recently, regulators in Maine similarly rolled back net metering.

These are just two recent examples, but battles over how solar customers should be compensated are playing out all over of the country.

At the same time, we’re also alarmed with the recent surge of demand charge proposals popping up from utilities in ArizonaTexas, and elsewhere. We reject demand charges because they are not shown to effectively encourage energy conservation and they make rooftop solar a less viable option for consumers. To boot, demand charges simply could be unpredictable and add huge costs to energy bills for small mistakes in a busy life, like running your dishwasher, microwave and stove at the same time after work one day.

(Side note: If you live in Arizona, submit a photo HERE to help us oppose demand charges)

We know that pro-solar policies like net metering work, and they’ve been instrumental in solar’s ascent. That’s why we’re defending and standing up for solar nationwide. Efforts to weaken or do away with these policies pose a threat to the United States’ ability to rapidly transition to 100 percent renewable energy, which we must do — and quickly — to avoid the worst impacts climate change.

Stay tuned for more solar news!