Graph of the Day: The big boom in solar in world’s biggest energy market

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The US solar market has surged in the past year, and forecasts suggest it will continue growth in next two years.

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These two graphs pretty much speak for themselves. They highlight the surge in growth in the solar market in the US – encompassing residential and commercial solar, utility scale solar PV and concentrated solar power.

The graphs come from a recent presentation by the Solar Energy Industry Association in the US.   By the end of 2015, it expects accumulated capacity in the US to reach 28GW. It has another 36GW of utility scale solar in the pipeline, and the residential market, now at just over one million homes, is also expected to surge.

solar US

This is represented in the next graph, with utility scale solar leading the way, and residential installations surging ahead of commercial and industrial installations. The SEIA expects 18 per cent growth and a new installation every 2.5 minutes.

In 2014, 36 per cent of all electricity capacity was solar. But by 2016, it will still account for 1.6 per cent of the total generation mix.

us solar growth

Giles Parkinson is founder and editor of RenewEconomy.com.au, and is also the founder of OneStepOffTheGrid.com.au and founder/editor of www.TheDriven.io. Giles has been a journalist for 35 years and is a former business and deputy editor of the Australian Financial Review.

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15 Comments
  1. john 4 years ago

    Considering most of the USA is not exactly blessed with good solar energy as against Australia which is very much closer to the equator and has such a low level of cloud cover for the most part off the coastal area this is very surprising.
    I just wonder how Australia’s figures stack up ?

    • Calamity_Jean 4 years ago

      IIRC, better. Australia’s homeowners are installing PV systems at nearly the same absolute rate as the US’s. Given Australia’s much smaller total population, this is a much better per capita rate.

      • Bob_Wallace 4 years ago

        The difference seems to be that US utilities are going solar in a significant way while Australian utilities are screwing themselves.

        • Alastair Leith 3 years ago

          Correct Bob — there’s virtually zero utility scale solar of any kind (PV or CST) in Australia.

      • john 4 years ago

        SA and QLD seem to have high penetration and I guess with only about 10 million homes then our rate is probably high

    • Ronald Brakels 4 years ago

      John, since Australian cities are intentionally built in the cloudiest parts of the continent, Australia’s advantage is not as large as many people assume it is. For example, rooftop solar only produces about one third more electricy in Australia as it does in cloudy Germany. On average US rooftop solar will perform considerably better than in Germany and a huge number of Americans currently live in locations where rooftop solar will perform about the same as the Australian average.

      • john 4 years ago

        You would be correct as the majority of people in Australia live on the eastern seaboard and the others on the coast south and west; then of course they suffer from cloud cover.
        Thank you for your reply.
        The USA having 10 times plus our population one would expect them to have a much larger in volume penetration of PV however Australia is not going to stand still I feel even with barriers being put up, the compelling financial return just makes PV a simple matter of doing the sums.
        I can not remember seeing one shopping centre with PV this would be one commercial area with a large footprint owned by one owner that surly lends itself to the take-up.

        • Bob_Wallace 4 years ago

          Look how utility solar is pulling ahead of commercial and residential solar in the US. We already have much lower retail electricity rates than does Australia.

          If our utility companies install a lot of wind and solar they may be able to keep prices reasonable and not provide the motivation for large end-user solar penetration.

          Reasonable retail prices and moderate connection fees could greatly decrease end-user solar in the US.

          Nothing wrong with that. The need is to get us off fossil fuel, not to kill utility companies

          • Alastair Leith 3 years ago

            death spiral is good for nobody apart from an outcome of last resort to get fossils in the bin. the grid was expensive and can provided enormous benefits to consumers and providers alike. we need to find a way to provide more open access to our grids and stop the gold plating/rent seeking from those who have the privilege to manage them ATM.

  2. sbean 4 years ago

    Is that 36% of all _new_ generation in 2014?

    • nakedChimp 4 years ago

      prolly yes

  3. Ian 4 years ago

    The high penetration of residential solar in Australia is shifting demand peaks to the sunset hours. Any utility scale utility scale solar is just going to make this situation worse. Any political party that promises utility solar has not thought this problem through and should not receive the solar vote. Solar is for the people , wind &c is for the utilities. If any future government wants to throw money at renewables they should be throwing it at storage. The simplest would be at the hydroelectric generators. They should be remunerated well to provide rapidly dispatch able power. There is about 6GW of hydro – essentially a monster battery to compliment intermittent solar and windno need to freewheel coal power stations or fire up gas peaking plants.

    • Bob_Wallace 4 years ago

      I fail to see why solar belongs to the people and not the utilities. Solar is solar. It’s cheap electricity (getting cheap) when the Sun is shining. Storage or another generation source has to take over when the Sun isn’t shining.

      Due to Australia’s very expensive electricity end-user makes a lot of sense in Australia. But the retail cost of electricity in AU has nothing to do with generation and everything to do with bad demand assumptions and high distribution costs (as I understand the problem).

      Other countries don’t share AU’s very expensive retail rates.

      Right now it costs less than 50% for utility scale solar than for residential solar. That difference may hold with residential bottoming out around $2/watt and utility scale at about $1/watt. If so, there is plenty of room for utilities to own the solar and sell it to retail customers at a profit and for a bit less than retail customers can produce their own.

      And when I look at the lowest cost storage technologies it seems that utilities will have large purchasing advantages. Plus big wind is always going to be owned at the utility level.

      • Ian 4 years ago

        Solar power is intermittant. The grid can only absorb so much before instability occurs. That is the cry of the big utilies. Adding utility scale solar will only exacerbate the problem. The government should not subsidise utility scale solar but rather subsidise complimentory technologies such as wind, and utility scale storage. This country already has a huge hydroelectricity base which is eminently dispatchable and very suited to further expansion in terms of conversion to pumped storage or in terms of adding turbines and generators. If 5GW of hydro can operate for 24hrs then 10 GW can be produced over 12 hrs. Throw wind power into the mix and hydro can provide even more stability to the grid. ie, 20 GW for 6hrs per day. If this storage capacity of the grid is not exploited then individual consumers will opt for battery storage at their premises. This will make coal and gas power redundant and possibly make utility wind and hydro just as redundant. If utilities want to develop large scale solar facilities, no problem, but don’t throw taxpayers money at them., subsidise storage not utility solar.

  4. Alastair Leith 3 years ago

    sure looks exponential to me 😉

    meanwhile australia has flatlined to linear growth in PV (all rooftop of course) for last four years. all states have had peaks and declines in discrete install numbers, and employment in the sector declined last year.

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