Solar in the States
The solar industry is growing rapidly in the United States. With more than 7,000 megawatts of capacity installed in 2014, the total installed capacity in the country climbed to over 20,000 MW, enough to power more than 4 million American households.1
Types of Solar Installation
- Solar power in the United States includes both centrally located utility-scale solar power plants and local distributed generation, which predominantly comes from rooftop photovoltaics.
- There are three main types of solar technology: photovoltaics, which convert sunlight directly into energy; concentrating solar power, or CSP, a utility-scale technology that uses mirrors or lenses to focus a large amount of heat into one area; and heating and cooling systems, which use the sun’s thermal energy to provide hot water, pool heating, space heating and cooling for residences, businesses and industrial facilities.2
State Leaders in Solar Installation3
- In 2014, California installed 4,316 MW of solar energy capacity, more than any other state and more than the solar energy capacity installed in the entire country from 1970-2011. California also leads the way in cumulative installed solar capacity with 9,977 MW as of 2014.
- In watts per person, Hawaii has more solar energy capacity per capita than any other state with 321. Arizona is close behind with 316 watts per person.
- Four states obtained 100 percent of new electricity capacity from solar in 2014: Arizona, Vermont, Tennessee and Nevada.
Jobs in the Solar Industry are Growing Rapidly4
- Approximately 174,000 people work in the U.S. solar industry, with solar jobs existing in all 50 states.
- Over the past five years, the solar industry has seen an 86 percent increase in employment.
- Demand side sectors, such as installation, sales, distribution and project development, make up 76 percent of employment in the solar industry. Thus, job growth in the solar industry is strongly tied to continued increases in capacity.
- The solar industry is expected to add 36,000 additional employees in 2015.
- The top 10 states for solar jobs are California (54,700); Massachusetts (9,400); Arizona (9,200); New York (7,280); New Jersey (7,200); Texas (6,970); Nevada (5,900); North Carolina (5,600); Florida (4,800) and Ohio (4,300).
- Nevada ranks first in the nation in solar jobs per capita.
Major Corporations are Going Solar at an Increasing Rate
- The 25 top solar producing companies installed more than 489 MW in capacity in 2014.
- Walmart leads the way in installed solar capacity, with 105.1 MW, more than twice the capacity of runner-up Kohl’s, with 50.2 MW. Walmart has installed more than 250 solar energy systems in the U.S., with each providing 15 percent to 30 percent of a store’s electricity.5
- Rounding out the top ten are Costco (48.1 MW); Apple (40.7 MW); IKEA (39.1 MW); Macy’s (20.8 MW); Johnson & Johnson (17.8 MW); Target (14.9 MW); McGraw Hill (14.1 MW) and Staples (13.7 MW).6
- Apple recently entered into the largest solar procurement contract for a non-utility, agreeing to an $850 million investment that will provide 130 MW of solar power to be completed before the end of 2016. The investment will provide enough electricity to supply all of Apple’s California stores, offices, headquarters and a data center. Apple recently completed two, 20 MW installations in North Carolina, with a third under construction. An additional 20 MW plant is being developed in Reno, Nev.7
The Cost of Solar is Expected to Continue to Decline8
- The installed cost of grid-connected solar photovoltaic systems in the U.S. continues to rapidly decline. In 2014, U.S. median installed costs declined by 9 percent for residential systems, 10 percent for non-residential systems of less than 500 kw, and by 21 percent for non-residential systems greater than 500 kw.
- These recent reductions in the installed price of solar have been driven primarily by declines in softs costs, such as marketing and customer acquisition, labor, permitting and inspection costs, and system design.
- Installed prices for both residential and non-residential systems are based on economies of scale, with larger systems costing between 15 percent and 36 percent less than smaller systems.
- Installed prices vary widely among states. Delaware and Texas had the lowest median installed prices, while New York had the highest. Some of the largest market states such as Massachusetts, New York and California, are relatively high-priced, but prices in most states are below the aggregate national median cost.
Policy Uncertainties Might Pose a Challenge for the Industry9
- On Dec. 31, 2016, the federal 30 percent investment tax credit supporting residential solar is set to expire. Installed solar capacity is expected to decline by 57 percent if the tax credit is not extended.
- Solar rebate and tax incentives are generally decreasing or expiring at the state level. In addition, net metering caps and renewable energy portfolio standard targets are being reached. Regulators and legislators are reviewing and considering changes to net metering and rate design in many states, as well.
1 Solar Energy Industries Association, “Solar Industry Data."
2 Solar Energy Industries Association, “Solar Technology.”
3 Solar Energy Industries Association, “2014 Top 10 Solar States."
4 The Solar Foundation, “National Solar Jobs Census 2014."
5 Solar Energy Industries Association, “Solar Means Business 2014: Top U.S. Commercial Solar Users."
7 Tom Randall, “What Apple Just Did in Solar is a Really Big Deal,” Bloomberg Business, Feb. 11, 2015.
8 Galen Barbose and Naim Darghouth, “Tracking the Sun VIII: The Installed Price of Residential and Non-Residential Photovoltaic Systems in the United States,” Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory (August 2015).
9 North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center and Mesiter Consultants Group, “50 States of Solar,” (Second Quarter 2015).
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