Wednesday, June 20, 2012

USA Passes 5,000 Megawatt Solar Generation Milestone

Your eyes are not misleading you.  You are seeing more solar systems all the time and more than ever before. Solar generation in the USA has increased by ten-fold or 900% since just 2008.  Now that's a boom!

Booming solar installations brought the USA within an eyelash of passing the 5,000 megawatts of solar power milestone as of March 31st. At the end of  the first quarter, total solar generation in the USA stood at 4,943 megawatts and could provide power for 775,000 homes.  

Solar generation certainly passed the 5,000 megawatt mark in April, an extraordinary achievement, given the USA had a total of 500 megawatts as recently as 2008.

First quarter installations in 2012 hit record levels and grew by 85%, compared to the first quarter of 2011.  A total of 503 megawatts were installed at 18,000 projects during the quarter.

SEIA is projecting that the USA will install 3,300 megawatts of solar generation this year, of which 1,800 megawatts will be utility scale projects.  If so, the USA will have about 7,700 megawatts of solar installed by the end of 2012.  SEIA projects that the USA will constitute about 11% of the global solar installations in 2012.

The explosive growth is driving down pricing, with module pricing falling 47% and installed prices dropping 17% from the first quarter of 2011 to the first quarter of 2012.  In turn, the fast falling prices are a key to continued growth in the global solar industry.

With interest rates at record lows, investing in a solar system for homes or business may offer attractive returns for available capital.  The solar revolution has progressed far enough that getting bids for a solar system is in 2012 a wise economic and environmental action.


  1. Again, for fairness' sake, you should mention that this is nameplate capacity, with possible production being no more than 25% of it.
    You should mention that this capacity isn't comparable to fossil plant capacity.
    You should also mention the crucial factor that drives these installations: subsidies and mandates.

    Then, your reporting whould be complete and unbiased.

    1. We have previously made the point that nameplate capacity is one measure. Production from that capacity is another measure. Included in the post is the number of homes that 5,000 megawatts of solar could supply, which captures the difference between capacity and production.

      Subsidies are multi-dimensional. The single biggest direct energy subsidy in the world is in countries like China that do not allow the market price of fossil fuels to be paid for by consumers. They subsidize the consumer consumption of oil and electricity, often generated from coal. The next biggest subsidy is the exclusion of external health and environmental costs, including climate, from the price of energy. Another huge subsidy is the military and national security costs paid by US taxpayers to keep the world oil lanes open and to fight at least 3 wars in the Middle East in the last 20 years.

      If all the various flaws in energy pricing were corrected, the cheapest fuels would look completely different.

      But that is not going to happen. All fuels are subsidized in multiple ways.

      In the case of solar, solar is now available for $3 per watt installed in the USA or less, without any direct subsidy. See other comment below. That makes it competitive with on-site power from the grid in parts of the country with high bundled rates and good solar resource. Solar also generates well when wholesale market prices are the highest.

  2. I talked to a solar installer who said he's putting systems in for $3 a watt. That's less than half of what it was a few years ago. Solar is a sure return investment, especially when the temps go into upper 90s. For the community, solar helps keeps the electricity going on hot days. For the owner, it means no cost for AC. No downside.

  3. I never understood the metric "number of homes that 5000 MW could supply".
    Not all homes are equal, etc.

    But: how could solar supply any homes at night?
    Do 5000MW solar "supply" the same number of homes as 5000MW gas ?

    As for solar being competitive - fine - go ahead and install, why not? Cancel subsidies and mandates, and go ahead.

    They are not competitive without various tax credits, and without the utilities being forced to buy excess solar electricity at high prices.

  4. The home metric assumes average national usage. It means that 5,000 megawatts of solar produces enough electricity over a year that equals the amount of power used by 775,000 homes over a year.

    Depending on how much the gas plant runs dictates how much electricity a gas MW produces. When gas prices were high, many gas plants ran very little. Now gas plants capacity factors are rising.

    Were a gas plant to run close to 100% of the time it would produce about enough power for 1,000 homes per megawatt.

  5. So, gas powers 1000 (or 900 if 90% capacity) homes per mw, solar power - 155 homes per mw - correct ? Isn't this "small" difference a relevant parameter worth mentioning when doing comparisons?

    As to intermittency: gas is capable of powering x homes almost 100% of the time, while solar only, maybe 40% of the time (during the day only), and at unpredictable intervals (when not cloudy).
    You don't need solar backup for gas, but you need gas backup for solar...

  6. The original posting did not compare to gas or anything else. It focused exclusively on the major progress in solar installation.

    Comparisons based on capacity and production are both useful when doing comparisons.

  7. Ok, you did no comparison.
    Still I find it missleading when you just state "5000MW" without the caveat that a solar MW isn't comparable to any other MW we know, beeing worth just about 1/4 of it (much less, in my opinion).

  8. Where is the comparison exactly?

    -Sharone Tal

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