By Alexandra Patel and Monica Medina
This week as you sit in the sun somewhere (we hope), consider that solar power is surging in the U.S. A recent report from Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables and the Solar Energy Industries Association announced that the first quarter of 2019 was the strongest in the U.S. solar industry’s history with 2.7 gigawatts of solar capacity added to the grid.
- Large scale utility solar projects, such those taking place in Florida and the Carolinas, accounted for 61 percent of this expansion and are expected to increase by another 46 percent.
- And Los Angeles city officials have just struck a deal on the largest and cheapest and highest capacity solar/battery-storage project in the world, which will serve 7% of the city’s power demand at a cost of half that of a new natural gas plant.
Why This Matters: The international consensus among scientists is that to mitigate the worst effects of climate change, temperature increases must not exceed 2 degrees Celsius. To achieve this goal, transitioning to clean energy, specifically that of solar energy, is crucial to sustaining the U.S. economy while simultaneously curtailing the negative impacts of energy generation on the environment. New York is already taking the first step towards a net zero economy through large investments in solar energy and is predicted to reach its goals by 2050 should it stay on track. And now Los Angeles has struck a revolutionary deal that leaves fossil fuels and nuclear power in the dust. The prospects for a clean energy future in the U.S. are getting brighter.
Solar Power Booming in the South
National Public Radio reported last week about how the decreasing cost of solar technology, available land and lots of sunshine are driving demand for massive, utility-scale solar projects across the American Southeast.
- Last year the small city of Dalton, Georgia opened the largest solar panel assembly plant in the Western hemisphere, a $150 million investment.
- Today, the Dalton plant runs 24 hours a day and employing 600 American workers who operate the high-tech assembly lines imported by Korean company Hanwha that built the plant.
- The solar cells manufactured in Korea are not currently subject to tariffs, but they could be next year when a quota on cell imports will likely be reached.
- Operating at capacity, the factory is now assembling 10,000 panels a day, seven days a week.
Where the US Stands Now: The is a strong bounce back from last year during which solar installations dropped by 2 percent. Solar energy doesn’t even makeup 2 percent of the U.S. energy generation. Falling costs, however, according to the Energy Information Administration, are setting up the industry to be the “fastest growing source of U.S. electricity generation for at least the next two years.” Coal generation in comparison continues to fall and accounts for only 28 percent of U.S. energy generation. Forbes quoted Mark Z. Jacobson, the Stanford professor who developed roadmaps for transitioning 139 countries to 100 percent renewables, hailed the LA solar/battery deal on Twitter Friday, saying, “Goodnight #naturalgas, goodnight #coal, goodnight #nuclear.”
Impacts of U.S.-imposed Tariffs: As part of the ongoing trade war with China, in 2018, Trump added a 30 percent tariff on foreign-produced solar panels, which had a negative effect on its domestic solar industry as it heavily relies on cheap imports. Despite the “truce” declared by President Trump after meeting with Chinese President Xi last week, the current tariffs remain in place. Even so, 80 percent of utility-scale solar projects undertaken in 2018 were signed under voluntary procurement versus the 11 percent that was mandated. “We’re in a position where we’re seeing a lot of market growth beyond what we initially expected a year ago or simply overcome any impacts of the tariffs” states a senior analyst of Wood Mackenzie.