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!
The New York Times, Washington Post and other national media all weighed in on a historic, yet divisive, announcement from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) just before the Thanksgiving holiday. As part of the Obama administrations’ enforcement of the Clean Air Act the EPA proposed a regulation that would lower the current limit for ground-level ozone pollution to 65-70 parts per billion (ppb) with a possibility for seeking a standard as low as 60 ppb. This in line with what independent scientific advisory panels have been recommending since 2008 when the current level was established at 75 ppb. The EPA had planned to release the rule in 2011 but the Obama Administration decided to delay due to election year jitters and the President preferred to wait until the economy was in a better condition to handle the economic blows that would result. Some may believe this is an issue being pushed by the Obama administration, but the 1970 Clean Air Act requires that these air regulations are revised based on the scientific evidence every five years.
The proposed standard is referring to ground-level ozone everyone in Southern California knows as smog or the infamous “haze”. As we are also painfully aware, smog is caused by emissions of pollutants which come from a range of sources including cars, power plants, air traffic, manufacturing plants, and oil and gas refineries. Ozone in the air we breathe is very harmful triggering a variety of effects such as asthma, chest pain, heart and lung disease, and premature death – particularly in children, the sick, and the elderly. For sunny Los Angeles this is no small matter since ozone causes the most damage during hot sunny days. As such, the updated standard is meant to be a public health measure and does not include direct regulation on businesses. The new rules will expand the ozone monitoring season and update the Air Quality Index to keep people informed when pollution levels are dangerous.
The fossil fuel industry, manufacturers, and their allys criticize the new standards stating they will wreak havoc on the economy. Some even calling it the “costliest regulation ever”. Indeed, power plants and factories will need to install expensive technology to clean up their pollution emissions. However, advocates argue that the economic benefits - measured in reduced health care needs and increased productivity due to improved health - significantly outweigh the costs to industry. States also have a very generous time, up to 23 years, to comply. Though some regions, including Southern California are not even complying with the 1997 standard of 84 ppb yet.
EPA administrator, Gina McCarthy, stated “Bringing ozone pollution standards in line with the latest science will clean up our air,…protect those most at-risk”, and the American people “deserve to know the air we breathe is safe.”
This is what improving regulations on air quality is all about. Though smog levels have been declining steadily over the last 40 years, there are always costs and benefits to each incremental improvement. As populations in urban centers continue to grow, these reductions in allowable pollution levels are always going to be both more difficult to accomplish and more imperative to preserve human and environmental health. Most would agree that human and environmental health trump the economic health of industries, especially industries that now have many viable solutions to damaging practices. Getting regulations in line with scientific evidence is just one more way to remind industry of how their environmental impacts are affecting the rest of us.
Readers of this blog know that solar is growing like crazy, and it looks like NPR has gotten the message.
Here is a Morning Edition story that you may have missed from last week amid the holiday hoopla:
Here are some key take aways:
Given that so many of our clients are NPR listeners, it is good to see that they are finally helping to spread the word that solar is here to stay!
“Cap and Trade” - a sensible approach to addressing climate change by reducing emissions of Greenhouse Gasses - was once considered so non-controversial that even prominent Republicans like John McCain and even Newt Gingrich endorsed it. Today the idea is routinely trashed in Washington as a “big government energy mandate“ that must be stopped at all costs. And yet, in California, Cap and Trade has been up and running for nearly two years despite legal challenges and dire predictions that it would ruin the economy. (Hint: it hasn’t!)
Now the program (known as AB32) is set to expand to cover vehicle fuels, which account for one-third of all GHG emissions in the state, and industry, particularly the fossil-fuel industry, is attacking the program again. Only this time they are playing a smarter, some would say more cynical, game - hiding behind “AstroTurf” groups to conceal their agenda.
Perhaps you’ve seen this ad:
Heavens, Californians are facing a “hidden” gas tax - oh no! - and who is giving you this news? An attractive model fronting for something called the “California Drivers Alliance” who wants you to sign their petition. In reality, what is hidden here is who is actually behind this ad - the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) and its fossil-fuel producing members.
In a PowerPoint presentation highlighting WSPA’s “Priority Issues” under the banner, “Energy Proud”, WSPA lays out how the current boost in domestic crude oil production should be “The Best of Times” except for those pesky concerns over the environment from fracking, oil spills, and yes, GHG emissions which threatens WSPA’s members with “The Worst of Times.” Their response? A massive astroturfing campaign designed to mislead consumers over the impact of this next phase of California’s cap and trade program all the while keeping the role of Big Oil out of the picture.
Fortunately WSPA has not been as sly as they intended, with their game plan having been made public, and now facing a coalition of pro-environment groups helping to unmask the powers behind the astroturfing. That coalition, operating under the name, Stop Fooling CA, is putting out the facts behind WSPA’s campaign to deceive the public, including clever graphics like the cartoon on the right. On their website you can sign up for news alerts and add your name to the list of people who are pushing back against Big Oil’s covert attempt to derail the most successful cap and trade program anywhere in the world, and one that even the Wall Street Journal concedes, “may hold lessons for other states.”
Before I head into the kitchen to get started on preparing our Thanksgiving feast, I wanted to take this moment to say thanks. In no particular order, I have to give thanks to and for:
I hope you have a wonderful holiday, filled with family and friends, and sunny thoughts!
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