Warm Reports About Solar Growth

Created:
Mon, 2011-03-21 09:18

Forecast Is Sunny With a Chance of Solar: New Reports Are Optimistic About US Solar Growth

Sometimes it doesn’t seem like there is a whole lot to be bullish about in this crippled economy that is limping its way back to life.

We’ve all heard the promises of green jobs and green tech that will resurrect the country from its economic and environmental death spiral.

But what’s the real forecast?

sunIf you believe the experts, it’s looking pretty sunny. According to two recent reports, “The U.S. PV Market in 2011” and “The U.S. Solar Market Insight: Year-in-Review 2010” solar energy is poised to explode. Shayle Kann, managing director of solar at GTM Research, said, “It is difficult not to be bullish about the U.S. PV market. The economics have never made more sense. As PV system costs fall, electricity prices rise, and project finance returns to the table, the U.S. market is inching closer to reaching its potential as the center of global PV demand.”

A Booming Industry
Remember when Google was just two guys in a garage? And then it wasn’t? It’s the same way with solar. What started in the 1970s as garage tinkering has grown to a $6 billion industry. The industry grew 67% in 2010 alone, from a $3.6 billion industry in 2009. This makes solar the fastest growing energy sector in the US economy. By comparison, the overall GDP growth inched along at 3%.

Providing Green-Collar Jobs
According to SEIA (Solar Energy Information Association) the solar industry provided 93,000 jobs in 2010. Most of these jobs require training easily obtained through weekend, week, semester or Associates Degree certification programs offered at community colleges or specialized continuing education institutes like Everblue Training Institute. These jobs easily earn between $35,000 and $70,000 annually. This makes the solar industry an ideal candidate to revive our crippled job market. Many of the nation’s 32 million unemployed workers looking for jobs already have the manufacturing, construction or trade skill set. This makes a transition to solar easy.

Plugged In
Think fast. How many devices are plugged into that power strip below your desk right now? If you’re like most Americans, it’s at least a computer, a cell phone, a printer, a iPod, a radio, a light or two and an assortment of charging cords for cameras, iPads, Bluetooth devices and a smattering of other electronics.

While electricity consumption in the United States is roughly 7.2 times the total in Germany, and nearly 15 times as much as Spain, more and more of our devices are powering up using solar energy. In 2010, we installed 878 megawatts (MW) of photovoltaic (PV) capacity and 78 MW of concentrating solar power (CSP). Additionally, 65,000 homes and businesses added solar water heating (SWH) or solar pool heating (SPH) systems.

Large-scale utility installations, known as Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) are popping up everywhere. The ample sunshine and open spaces of the American West provide ideal locations for these large solar panel arrays. The seventeen operational CSPs in the US generated 507 MW of power in 2010. What’s more, the 75-MW Martin Next Generation Solar Energy Center was completed in 2010; it is the largest U.S. CSP plant to come online in nearly 20 years.

This growth is largely driven by the fact that solar receives more subsidies, incentives and tax breaks than any other alternative energy. Most notably, Federal Section 1603 Treasury Program directly contributed to significant utility-scale projects, expansion of new state markets and declining technology costs.

The Nuts and Bolts Of The Future: Cells and Wafers
The US has a long history of manufacturing prowess that has taken quite the beating in the last ten years. Outsourced jobs, a dying steel industry and a crippled automotive market do not bode well for the future of US manufacturing. However, with an existing manufacturing infrastructure and a skilled manufacturing workforce (a large percentage of which is currently unemployed), Rust Belt cities like Cleveland, Detroit and Buffalo serve as ideal locations to manufacture solar and wind components.

To this tune, the reports found that U.S. manufacturing of PV components increased substantially for wafers (97% growth), cells (81% growth), and modules (62% growth). In 1995, the US held 43% of the world’s solar market share. In 2007, they clinched 27% and in 2009 this fell to a mere 6%. Now countries like China and Malaysia manufacture technologies the US R&D developed. It’s time to turn this trend around and bring solar manufacturing back to US shores.

The Future’s Looking Bright
The United States has the manufacturing history and skilled workforce necessary to build a successful solar industry. The US also has the right environmental conditions. Certainly, the sunny deserts of Phoenix, Las Vegas and Albuquerque provide ample sunshine and open spaces for solar arrays. However, even cloudy Seattle, Cleveland and Boston offer enough insolation (exposure to the sun’s rays) to make PV viable. In fact, the northeast has more insolation than Germany, the world’s current leader in solar installations.

Leading The Way
The United States is poised to take the lead in solar research, development and installation. The perfect storm is brewing to launch a booming solar industry. Take a look. We’ve got:

  • A manufacturing infrastructure
  • A skilled workforce
  • Ample open land
  • Adequate sunshine
  • Government incentives
  • R&D funding (leading to falling tech costs)
  • Rising electricity costs

The conditions are right and the time is now. But despite all these ingredients for success, the US is home to only 6% of the world’s total solar installations. Let’s step it up and show the rest of the world what we’re made of.

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