US Solar Power Is Booming This Year Despite Trump's Tariffs

Illustration for article titled US Solar Power Is Booming This Year Despite Trumps Tariffs
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Clean energy is on the up and up again, and the U.S. solar industry is benefiting as a result. Despite a drop in solar installations last year, this year is expected to see installations increase, according to a new report.

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Published Tuesday, the report from the Solar Energy Industries Association and Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables, a market research group, found 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. New solar installations should grow 25 percent from 2018, to 13.3 gigawatts. The bounce back, after solar installations dipped 2 percent last year, was driven by larger-scale utility solar projects, which account for 61 percent of the first quarter’s growth.

This marks a sizeable change from what was expected last year when President Trump announced he was smacking tariffs on imported solar cells and modules. At the time, the industry was worried that the tariffs would hinder solar, especially after 2017’s job losses. Instead, solar installations shot past the 2 million mark this year, which is something worth celebrating.

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“We’ve now gone a full five quarters with the tariffs being in place, and the market has seemed to have really settled down and has grown quite robustly,” said Colin Smith, senior analyst with Wood Mackenzie, to Earther. “Now, 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.”

As the report notes, residential rooftop solar is seeing some growth, while non-residential solar—which refers to solar panels found on commercial and industrial facilities, in addition to community solar projects—is facing a decline. Utility solar projects that feed energy into the grid are the real saviors here, though: The report notes that this sector should grow by 46 percent from 2018 this year thanks to big solar projects in Florida and the Carolinas. So far, Florida has been leading the charge in solar installations this year, followed by California (of course).

The industry expects this growth to continue well past 2019, as well. A number of U.S. utilities—from Dominion to Duke Energy—have solar projects in the works, and they should be a reality come 2024. Plus, even non-residential solar should finally see some growth in the coming years. By 2023, the report authors expect community solar to make up about 30 percent of non-residential solar capacity. Another roughly 20 percent will come from solar-plus-storage as energy storage starts to gain some steam.

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Corporations are also helping fuel solar’s growth, said Smith. Companies like Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and Google are procuring hundreds of megawatts—if not gigawatts—of solar to help fuel their internal renewable energy targets.

“In years past, we were really looking at distributed generation so residential and commercial rooftop projects as one segment,” Smith told Earther, “but we’re now seeing this emerging segment that’s really driving growth.”

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Currently, solar doesn’t even make up 2 percent of the U.S. energy generation. However, as costs have fallen solar has grown more than seventeen-fold since 2008, according to the Department of Energy. Renewables, in general, are set to be the “fastest growing source of U.S. electricity generation for at least the next two years,” per the Energy Information Administration. Meanwhile, coal generation has been falling; it’s down to just 28 percent of U.S. energy generation.

Still, solar plus wind might not be enough to meet our targets put forth by the Paris Agreement, E&E News reports. Other types of renewable energy types may be necessary during winter months when energy demands are highest. Governments may need to step in to ensure there’s more research being done on nuclear, renewable hydrogen, biogas, and carbon capture. If we won’t be using fossil fuels in the future, we need to figure out what will fill in the gaps if there are times when wind and solar can’t produce enough energy.

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The energy market is changing, and we all better brace ourselves.

Yessenia Funes is climate editor at Atmos Magazine. She loves Earther forever.

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DISCUSSION

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Good stuff. Well done.

Other types of renewable energy types may be necessary during winter months when energy demands are highest.

Much of the winter energy demand for heating is met with natural gas right now. That will be difficult to match, but not impossible.

Here’s one easy solution being implemented now.

Here in the windy heartland, wind and solar projects are being coupled to take advantage of shared electrical installations, which cuts solar costs greatly.

Wind power generation peaks in the winter, where solar generation peaks in the summer (like, no dah). Solar on agriculture land is finally starting to go nuts after lagging behind wind for about ten years.

The figure below is wind and solar power generation throughout the US over the past 4 years to show how peaks and troughs line up.

Wind-solar pairing cuts equipment costs while ramping up output

The above link is chiefly about Minnesota wind and solar.