Solar energy poised for an unforgettable year

WASHINGTON — Statistics just released by the U.S. Energy Information Administration suggest that in the coming year, the booming solar sector will add more new electricity-generating capacity than any other — including natural gas and wind.

EIA reports that planned installations for 2016 include 9.5 gigawatts of utility-scale solar — followed by 8 gigawatts (or 8 billion watts) of natural gas and 6.8 gigawatts of wind. This suggests solar could truly blow out the competition, because the EIA numbers are only for large or utility-scale solar arrays or farms and do not include fast-growing rooftop solar, which will also surely add several additional gigawatts of capacity in 2016.

In other words, U.S. solar seems poised for not just a record year but perhaps a blowout year. Last year, in contrast, solar set a new record with 7.3 gigawatts of total new photovoltaic capacity across residential, commercial, and utility scale installations.

“If actual additions ultimately reflect these plans, 2016 will be the first year in which utility-scale solar additions exceed additions from any other single energy source,” says EIA.

Justin Baca, vice president for markets and research at the Solar Energy Industries Association, said he agrees with EIA’s figures — though the industry group expresses them in direct current (DC) versus alternating current (AC), and so projects a total of 11.8 gigawatts of utility-scale solar photovoltaic installations, a number Baca calls “completely consistent” with EIA’s. On top of that, meanwhile, SEIA expects to see an additional 4 gigawatts of residential and commercial solar additions, for over 15 gigawatts in total, Baca said.

“Solar’s going to be the decisive leader in terms of capacity additions, for 2016,” Baca said.

The reason this is occurring, however, is not a simple reflection of solar’s growing popularity, or its widely agreed upon role in helping to battle climate change. Rather, it involves that darling of the industry, the 30 percent solar investment tax credit, which was extended late last year for five years, with a gradual phaseout.

Before its recent extension, the credit was set to phase out at the end of 2016. Accordingly, to make sure they captured the credit, a large number of installations had been planned to close by the end of this year.

“For the past eight years, the expectation had been that you were going to get your system done this year, otherwise the cost of the system in 2017 was going to be much higher,” Baca said. Now that the credit will actually not phase out, many of those already planned installations are going ahead on time. “Had the tax credits been extended earlier, people might have relaxed their timelines,” he said.

This logic means that 2017 won’t see as many installations as 2016 – but Baca thinks the industry will keep growing and that by 2019, will climb back to 2016’s high.

However, given the extension of the credit, it could be that 2016 actually ends a little lower than it would have otherwise, according to Nathan Serota, a solar industry analyst with Bloomberg New Energy Finance. But he concurs that there should still be a record year. “It’s going to be big,” Serota said. “The floor on 2016 will be over 9 gigawatts” including all types of solar installations, he said.

Serota says the tax credit extension means there could actually be only a slight difference between 2016 and 2017, if enough projects get pushed off until next year. “2016 is going to be a huge year, and then we’re going to continue to see big years over the next 5,” he said. Granted, solar could still face some headwinds, particularly from the competition offered by extremely low natural gas prices.

In the grand scheme, the tax credits for solar, as well as an extension of the production tax credit for wind, could serve as a kind of “bridge” into an era in which the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan is operating – or at least, so the current administration hopes. Granted, that depends on whether that plan survives its current legal challenges.

A recent report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory found that due to the tax credit extensions, the U.S. will add 53 additional gigawatts of renewable energy capacity by the year 2020.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Carmen Miller, (left) helps Ezekiel Eagle with his selection at Tulalip Remedy in Tulalip on August 22, 2018.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Joints for jabs: Pot-up at a pop-up COVID vaccination clinic

Remedy Tulalip is giving away cannabis cigarettes to those 21 and older who get a shot on Tuesday.

This condo on Norton Ave. in Everett was sold Friday, June 18. (Sue Misao / The Herald)
Snohomish County home values soar in latest assessment

Lack of affordable housing put the squeeze on buyers and drove up home prices across Snohomish County.

Cars make their way across US 2 between Lake Stevens and Everett as wildfire smoke makes downtown Everett barely visible on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Wildfire smoke: A burning health issue is getting worse

As the hazardous haze increases during fire seasons, it’s time to get serious and prepare, experts say.

Everett's Patrick Hall was among people who put up signs in March to save the Longfellow School building.  He is now part of an advisory task force looking at options for the building, which the Everett School District had planned to tear down.  (Dan Bates / The Herald)
National register listing could be next for old Longfellow

But the designation wouldn’t stop the Everett School District from tearing down the former school.

Harry Lee Jones Jr.
Man gets 31½ years for shooting Everett motel guest 12 times

Harry Lee Jones Jr., 27, beat and then shot a Farwest Motel guest in 2018 while two accomplices looted his room.

Pallet communities are groups of tiny homes for unhoused people. Here, a worker installs weatherstripping on a pallet shelter at Pallet in Everett in January 2020. (Kevin Clark / Herald file)
Tiny home community is proposed at a Marysville church

The Pallet shelter community would provide transitional housing to eight people. Neighbors have questions.

Photo courtesy Laura Thompson 

Madison Thompson and her dog Stella.
Whidbey teen, golden retriever make top 8 in NY kennel show

Madison Thompson was one of the youngest competitors in her division of 80 kids.

Chris Stack and Samantha Soule film a scene of their movie, "Midday Black, Midnight Blue," on the Coupeville wharf June 14. (Photo by Karina Andrew/Whidbey News-Times)
Indie film crew: Whidbey residents are ‘generous and welcoming’

The movie makers are shooting scenes for a full-length feature at various sites around the island.

With the Olympic mountains in the background, the first passenger flight by Alaska Airlines Flight 2878 departs for Portland on opening day of the Paine Field Terminal on Monday, March 4, 2019 in Everett, Wash. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Snohomish County airports get $5.5 million in federal grants

Paine Field will receive $5.4 million. Arlington’s airport and Harvey Field each are getting $59,000.

Most Read