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Almost a third of new U.S. electricity came from solar last year

Solar power crashed its way onto the U.S. power grid last year and is now fundamentally changing the makeup of how energy is being produced and consumed. Essentially, it’s becoming a mainstream power source: According to a new report from the Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research, solar power had another record year in 2013, with 4.75 gigawatts of solar energy systems installed, including 2 gigawatts in just the fourth quarter alone.

That made solar the second largest source of new electricity generation in the U.S. last year, only behind natural gas. New natural gas made up almost half of the new electricity built out, solar made up about a third of new electricity, and wind delivered about 7 percent of new electricity. New coal power only made up 10 percent of the total (high-fives!).

Apple's solar farm next to its data center in Maiden, North Carolina
Apple’s solar farm next to its data center in Maiden, North Carolina

The amount of solar installed last year was 41 percent higher than in 2012. There are now over 12 gigawatts of solar panels installed in the U.S. — from 440,000 solar panel systems — and 918 megawatts of solar thermal power. Solar thermal power uses the sun’s heat to generate electricity in contrast to solar panels which convert sunlight directly into electricity (see the world’s largest solar thermal plant Ivanpah).

The rate of growth in solar has been dramatic. More solar has been installed in the U.S. in the last 18 months than in the last 30 years, says the report. California was responsible for half of the solar systems installed last year in the U.S.

The researchers behind the report are forecasting slightly slower growth, at 26 percent, for this year, which would bring the amount of solar installed in 2014 in the U.S. to 6 gigawatts. If solar installations hit that target there will be just under 20 gigawatts of solar power in the U.S.

Some other interesting data points in the report include:

  • The market value of all solar panel installations completed in 2013 was $13.7 billion.
  • Weighted average solar panel system prices fell 15 percent in 2013, reaching a new low of $2.59/W in the fourth quarter.
  • There were 140,000 individual solar installations in the U.S. in 2013.
  • Q4 2013 was by far the largest quarter ever for solar panel installations in the U.S. with 2,106 MW, up 60 percent over the next largest quarter (Q4 2012).

16 Responses to “Almost a third of new U.S. electricity came from solar last year”

  1. Spec9

    My house is 140% net solar PV for electricity. And that includes an electric car. Not paying for electricity is nice . . . not paying for gasoline . . . priceless.

  2. Still pretty neat. Solar went from 0.3% to over 1% of total US power production in three years. And the cost of that installed solar was about the same cost as one of those new Gerald Ford class aircraft carriers that the US is building right now. I say we skip the new aircraft carriers and add some more 10’s of Gigawatts of solar power arrays.

  3. Andrew Cosolo, PMP

    I don’t want to bring down the party or the high fives but the 12 Gigawatts of solar
    is about 1% of the US power production of 1,168 Gigawatts. These growth rates look great because solar is starting from a low base. Also as we are still in a recession our power consumption is not growing and may be less than a few years ago when capacity was build out.

    • John H.

      1% is a lot. Two years ago solar had around 0% market share, less then rounding error. Add more then 4% of US electricity generated by wind – and we are talking about 5% total for wind and solar.

      So renewables are replacing traditional plant. Yes, slowly, but they are already contributing quite meaningful amount to the grid. And in places like California, #7 economy in the world, renewables are closer to 15% of total electricity consumption.

      • Don’t be surprised if the 7% figure proves wildly pessimistic. In much of the country, solar will be the cheapest source of power by decade’s end (it’s already competitive in some market). Depending on where natural gas exporting goes, it could happen much sooner.

        20% in 20 years seems very doable. 40% in 40 years seems like a great stretch goal. Add in a bunch of wind. Replace the old nuclear with Gen III (and ultimately Gen IV) plants. Use some natural gas for the rest….

        And, well, we’ve done it. Without those lefties secret plan to destroy the economy.

    • John Whitney Jr.

      But, the levelized cost of solar (and other renewables) keeps dropping while conventional generation costs continue to rise. As it stands today (even without subsidies and incentives and in the right regions) solar PV is approaching parity while geothermal, hydropower, and wind are competitive with the cheapest form of natural gas generation.

  4. YK Jain

    Happy to see the photographs of SunPower Modules and Tracking Solution and OASIS-C1.
    covered in this article. It is better to make reference of the photographs.

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