Last week the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and George Washington University (GWU) issued a report estimating that the United States has reached 1 million solar installations and will surpass 2 million installations by 2018. This is a 1,000-fold increase over 15 years as only 1,000 systems were installed in 2001, and these numbers highlight the tremendous growth experienced by the solar industry. Of the 1 million PV systems, there are currently over 942,000 residential installations, nearly 57,000 PV installations at businesses, non-profits and government agencies, and over 1,500 utility-scale PV installations. SEIA and GWU anticipate 4 million installations by 2020 and for the U.S. to be installing one million PV systems annually by 2025. To learn more about this solar milestone and the factors contributing to the solar industry’s growth, read on!
While currently only supplying 1 percent of U.S. electricity generation, solar energy accounted for 30 percent of new capacity last year and is expected to continue developing. This growth has profoundly affected the job sector, where solar jobs grew 123 percent in the past five years and created 1 in 83 new U.S. jobs in 2015. Overall, the solar industry now employs over 200,000 Americans, three times more jobs than U.S. coal mining.
Multiple factors were credited for playing a role in the U.S. reaching 1 million solar installations, including lower installation costs and predictable, stable federal and state policies. In the last ten years, installation costs have dropped more than 70 percent, driven by declining solar module prices. Enacted in 2008, the solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC), a 30 percent tax credit for solar systems on residential and commercial properties, was extended in December through 2021. Meanwhile, state policies such as net-metering and renewable portfolio standards (RPS) have allowed solar to enter markets. Currently, 44 states have net metering policies and 29 have RPS policies.
One challenge for the future of solar is the inability of lower-income households to benefit from solar due to a multitude of barriers, including a high rate of renters, multi-tenant buildings, and a lack of access to financing.