It has been a great year for solar in the US! As the year comes to an end, we like to take a look at the numbers to get a sense of how the industry is doing as a whole. The first statistic I came upon stated that through just the first half of 2014, 53% of all new electric capacity installed came from solar!
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, utility-scale solar as of September, 2014 had sent 14.2 gigawatt-hours of electricity to the U.S. grid, up 110% compared to 6.7 GW in 2013. California is leading the way with a whopping 7.8 GW generated in 2014, 188 percent change from 2013!
That means solar generation was enough to meet the electricity needs of 1,513,703 average U.S. homes, and represented about 0.4 percent of the nation’s total electricity. However, these numbers don’t take into account residential and private commercial solar.
“There are now more than half a million homes and businesses nationwide with a solar installation,” reported the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA).
With continued growth and accounting for these additional sources of generation, solar electricity could easily account for 1 percent of U.S. generation by the end of this year. That might sound like small potatoes, but as recently as 2008 the energy contribution from solar was virtually zero. Rapid growth in the sector points toward continued gains in the near future.
What’s spurring this remarkable growth in the industry? For one thing, it is becoming more and more affordable with the average price of a solar panel declining by 64% since 2010. We also cannot overstate the role of effective public policies such as the solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC), Net Energy Metering (NEM) and Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) among other state and city-specific policies.
Growth in the solar sector has far reaching positive impacts for the US economy as well as the environment! While the numbers are not yet in for 2014, as of 2013 the industry had already provided 143,000 much needed jobs for Americans or more than 50 people hired in solar each day. Looked at another way, nearly $20 billion a year was invested back into the economy due to the industry.
On the environmental side Rhone Resch, CEO of SEIA, noted that solar will “help to offset an estimated 20 million metric tons of harmful CO2 emissions in 2014, which is the equivalent of taking 4 million cars off U.S. highways, saving 2.1 billion gallons of gasoline or shuttering half a dozen coal-fired power plants”. Needless to say, converting to solar or other renewable energy sources is paying huge dividends for both our economy and the environment. We look forward to sharing this great resource with continued growth in 2015 and beyond!
We are fans of SEIA, the Solar Energy Industry Association, as we believe that they do important work lobbying on behalf of solar in Washington, D.C. But a blog post by Chet Henry over at Red, Green & Blue titled, “Who has the best job in solar? Bet it’s not you,” (h/t SolarWakeup) had us spewing our coffee in disbelief—they are paying him what???
It turns out that SEIA is paying its President/CEO, Rhone Resch, $786,000 per year—to say nothing of a gym membership and guaranteed first class air travel. Say what?
Now this is not an attack on Mr. Resch, whom I respect. But seriously, SEIA, what the heck are you doing? Julia Hamm, who heads up SEPA, the Solar Electric Power Association (which tries to get electric utilities to adopt solar-friendly policies) gets paid roughly a third of Resch, at $286,000. Sorry, but there is no way Resch is worth three times what Hamm is. Worse still, according to the blog post, SEIA’s records reveal three other executive women at SEIA, none of whom makes more than a third of what Resch makes.
Frankly, we have been concerned for some time about SEIA’s dues structure which is disproportionately high for small revenue solar companies, and is one of the chief reasons that 80% of solar companies aren’t members. Indeed, we are no longer members as it simply didn’t seem like a worthwhile investment for our all too finite capital. Dumping nearly 800 G’s into one man’s salary, however, is no way to say to small installation companies, “we represent you and want you to participate.”
SEIA has noted that there are more than 140,000 people in this country working in the solar industry. I wonder how many of them are getting paid what SEIA is paying its President? SEIA has said that there are more than 5,000 solar companies in this country. I wonder how many of their President/CEOs are getting paid anywhere near what SEIA is paying its CEO?
I simply don’t buy the notion that you need to pay someone that kind of salary to attract the talent needed to do the job. After all, Ms. Hamm has to hobnob with the heads of IOUs who make 10 times as much as she does, but she can do it for nearly half a million dollars less than SEIA is paying out.
Time for reform at SEIA.
Thanks to our friend Yann over at SolarWakeup.com we came across this great infographic summarizing the State of U.S. Solar in 2013 and we thought we would share that with our readers along with our observations.
The folks at Greentech Media Research and the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA) compiled the report summarizing the State of Solar in the US, and you can download the Executive Summary here. Yet it is their infographic that really fired our imagination.
The graphic notes that “a solar system is installed every four minutes” in the U.S. which is a pretty amazing stat.
We have an even more amazing stat to share that will be part of our new website roll-out this January. While you wait, take a guess: If 2% of the households in America that wanted solar, added solar in 2014, how fast would that be?
Even as other markets around the country grow, California still leads the way. So let’s grow it even faster - how about allocating some of those AB 32 auction funds to refreshing the solar rebate programs around the state - particularly for non-profits?
Despite our progress - 12 GW of total solar capacity installed - we have a long way to go to displace coal. According to the U.S. EIA, as of 2012 there were 310 GW of coal capacity installed, making solar just 3.8% of coal’s share.
The U.S. will hit 13% of global solar installations - a 30-year high - by the end of this year and that share will grow over the next four years.
Of course, we invented this technology, we have abundant insolation resources and the people overwhelmingly want it - so all we need are the proper policies.
As we wrap up 2013 and head into a bright new year, let’s hope that we can push back the naysayers and the “not-so-smart ALECs” of the world and propel solar to reach its rightful dominance.
The good folks over at the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA) are all too aware of the threat facing the solar industry from utility attacks and they are fighting back - with facts about the industry and its importance. Here’s our take.
Nowhere is the solar industry more vital than right here in California. Indeed, if California were its own country, it would rank 7th in installed solar capacity worldwide, higher than our overall economic rank of ninth in the world.
To help mobilize our supporters, SEIA sent out a press release with some important facts and with some useful action items. (If you are in a hurry, just skip to the Action Items!)
First, here’s the presser:
It’s official: for the third year in a row, solar is the fastest growing energy source in America. Released today, the SEIA and GTM Research report U.S. Solar Market Insight: 2012 Year-in-Review reveals that the U.S. solar market grew by 76% in 2012.
But what does that mean for California?
California continues to lead the U.S. in solar energy installations thanks to declining system prices and the state’s “net metering” policy that gives customers fair credit on their bills for the electricity they generate. California was responsible for nearly one-third of the nation’s solar installations last year. More than 1,000 megawatts (MW) of solar was added to the state’s power grid in 2012, a 44 percent increase over 2011. This is the first time any state eclipsed the 1,000 MW mark.
More than 40,000 Californians are currently employed in the solar industry, many in positions related to the installation and maintenance of net-metered residential and commercial solar systems.
The good news doesn’t end there:
- Solar creates jobs: Every second of the work day, more than two solar panels are installed by a solar worker on American soil. Today, solar employs 119,000 total workers in the U.S.
- Solar powers homes: There is now more than 7.7 gigawatts of cumulative solar electric capacity installed in the U.S., enough to power more than 1.2 million American households.
- Solar drives our economy: In 2012, new U.S. solar installations were valued at $11.5 billion – more than double the $5.5 billion value of installations in 2010.
This is the effect of smart policy, innovation, and competition.
So what can we expect from solar in California in 2013? The industry can continue its rapid growth if policies like net metering are protected, allowing new developments to flourish in the state. Unfortunately, as solar gets cheaper and more accessible, many utility companies see it as a threat to their 100-year old business model. Some California utilities claim that distributed solar generation shifts costs to other customers, when in reality a recent study showed that it provides net benefits to lower all customers’ costs by more than $92 million.
We’re fighting back. Allowing customers to net meter is critical to making solar an economically-viable option for most homeowners.
So here are two things to do RIGHT NOW:
Join our Thunderclap, so that we can all say with one voice that we Fight for #SolarInsight!
Sign this petition today and call on the California Public Utility Commission to protect California’s 40,000 solar jobs and leading solar energy industry.
More will be needed over time to preserve the industry we have all worked so hard to build - but please, add your voice to the mix. Thanks!
UPDATE - We are starting to see “news” articles that seem to be following the ALEC playbook, including one from the AP bemoaning the carbon footprint of solar modules, particularly once you considered disposal of associated hazardous waste. But not so fast, says this piece which offers a contextual rebuttal.
The ultra-conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) - the organization that brought you the much maligned “stand your ground laws” - has trained its guns on another vulnerable target: economic support for renewable energy. Now it is up to the supporters of a clean energy future to push back against ALEC’s concerted campaign of “subversion” against renewables.
We have written before about the PR problems facing the solar industry, a problem that continues to this day. However, we are starting to see that this problem isn’t simply the fault of misinformed or lazy reporters. To the contrary, it now appears that there is an orchestrated campaign underway with the expressed intent of denigrating the entire renewable energy industry - and the spearhead of that campaign is ALEC.
ALEC’s mission - funded by such dirty energy sources as Exxon Mobil and the Koch brothers - is to develop conservative legislation for adoption by state legislatures around the country. Although generally unknown to the public, ALEC has had considerable success pushing its conservative agenda, which now includes climate change denial. Not content with promoting “model” legislation that would roll back Renewable Portfolio Standards, ALEC is now looking to create a national organization devoted to making the wind industry in particular - and potentially all renewables in general - unacceptable to the public, and thus to policy makers.
The Guardian newspaper got a copy of an ALEC internal memo that laid out their ultimate goal:
Cause subversion in message of industry so that it effectively becomes so bad no one wants to admit in public they are for it (much like wind has done to coal, by turning green to black and clean to dirty).
Ultimate Goal: Change policy direction based on the message.
While it may be true that the present target of ALEC’s efforts is the wind industry, one need not be a visionary to realize that if they can succeed there the solar industry will be next. And while the Orwellian prospect of “turning green to black and clean to dirty” might seem like an unlikely goal, these types of “big-lie” campaigns have been successful in the past. Indeed, the failure to take meaningful national action on Climate Change is at least in part attributable to the tactics of the Heartland Institute, coincidentally one of the co-conspirators on this scheme with ALEC.
So how do we fight back? Here are a number of ways:
Without a doubt the folks supporting ALEC have more money for this fight than does the renewable energy industry. But we have the people on our side with more than 90% of the American electorate supportive of solar and other forms of clean, green energy. Let this be our wake-up call - we are making strides and our opponents have noticed and are now fighting back. As has been noted before, “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.”
It’s winning time!