Going solar is a big deal for any homeowner, considering both the cost of solar as well as how much it can save you on your electricity bill. But in the grand scheme of things, a few kilowatts of solar panels on your roof isn’t exactly going to change the world – or is it?
#Actually, those solar panels are part of the greatest transformation the global power industry has seen since the days of Edison, and in the past few months we’ve seen signs that the momentum behind this break from the status quo is growing stronger than ever. Thanks to steadily declining costs, today solar is increasingly the cheapest way to generate electricity, making it a popular choice for not only homeowners in the US but villagers in India, CEOs of major international corporations, and utilities everywhere in the world.
There’s been a constant stream of headlines and datapoints supporting this big picture trend, but here are a few of the most important ones that have recently caught our eye:
- In the U.S., solar was the biggest source of new electricity capacity for the first time ever in 2016, surpassing natural gas to account for 39% of all new installations. Nearly 15 gigawatts (GW) of solar was installed in total, which represented nearly a doubling of 2015 installations. While this total includes a lot of ground-mounted, utility-scale solar farms, it also includes a record 2.5 GW of residential solar, as the industry surpassed 1 million home solar systems cumulatively. It turns out all those 5 kilowatt home solar installations really do add up!
- Zooming out from the U.S. , a record 71 GW of solar was installed in 2016, becoming the single fastest-growing source of new generation capacity globally for the first time as well. Nearly half of this new solar was installed in China, but the US, Japan, India, Germany, and the UK all made major contributions to the total as well. GTM Research projects that the global solar market will grow even further to 85 GW in 2017 – double the amount added in 2014 – and will include a geographic broadening of the market, with accelerating growth in Latin America and the Middle East.
- For the first time, the International Renewable Energy Agency’s (IRENA) annual Renewable Energy Capacity Statistics report included separate data on off-grid renewables, a clear sign that this market is beginning to scale in a major way as well. Cumulatively, off-grid renewables reached 2.8 GW in 2016, adding over 1 GW on an annual basis for the first time and supplying electricity for over 300 million people in primarily rural, low-income communities. Solar accounted for the largest share of the total, with nearly 50% of the total including over 400 MW installed in India alone.
- A new report by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and sustainable investment groups found that nearly half of all Fortune 500 companies have set clean energy targets, including nearly two thirds of the Fortune 100. Not only that, but nearly two dozen of these companies are aiming for 100% renewables, including Google, Facebook, Bank of America, and Walmart. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, U.S. businesses have directly installed over 1 GW of onsite solar, and there’s a growing trend towards businesses contracting with off-site solar farms as well – including a recent 200 MW solar buy by Apple.
- Looking to the future, a recent report by leading international government research institutions maps out a path to installing up to 10 terawatts (TW) of solar capacity globally by 2030. The Global Alliance of Solar Energy Research Institutes (GA-SERI) includes the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and its counterparts at similar institutes in Germany and Japan, and the report also incorporated analysis from academic and industry experts. Notably, this 10 TW target represents a “realistic trajectory” requiring no major technological breakthroughs – just the continued steady improvements of today’s solar cells and smart policies.
So, be proud of the decision to go solar – you’re part of something much, much bigger. You’re at the forefront of a historic technology transition that is enabling people around the world to get cleaner and cheaper energy than ever before. Trinity has helped over 35,000 customers go solar so far, and we’re just getting started – click here to find out how we can help you join the movement!