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Solar Industry's Sizzling Start to New Year Could Lead to More Broken Records

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With the coldest winter in two decades gripping much of the country this year—and wild price swings for natural gas rattling the markets, not to mention American consumers—it’s easy for many people to overlook the “hot start” in 2014 for solar energy.

But so far this year, it’s been good news followed by even more good news for the U.S. solar industry.

  • The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) released its latest “Energy Infrastructure Update” report, showing that nearly 90 percent of all new electric generation that came online in January was solar.

  • The Department of the Interior (DOI) formally approved two new utility-scale solar power projects in California and Nevada, totaling 550 megawatts (MW) of new generating capacity. Both projects are being developed by First Solar Inc. and mark a regulatory milestone. President Obama’s administration has now approved 50 large-scale renewable energy projects on public lands in the West since 2009—more than half of them for solar.

Photo credit: BrightSource Energy/Flickr

  • The huge $2.2 billion Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System—located near the California-Nevada border—was completed, generating enough power for 140,000 homes. This state-of-the-art concentrating solar power (CSP) complex is owned by BrightSource EnergyNRG Energy and Google. San Francisco-based Bechtel, the largest construction company in the United States, provided engineering, procurement, construction and start-up services for the project.

  • Three weeks ago, in his nationally-televised State of the Union address, President Obama gave a personal “shout out” for solar, telling an audience of 35 million people: “Every four minutes, another American home or business goes solar; every panel pounded into place by a worker whose job can’t be outsourced.”

  • Four days before the President’s address to Congress, more than 3 million people took part in National “Shout Out For Solar” Day—celebrated as part of SEIA’s 40th anniversary as a national trade association—on FacebookTwitter and other social media platforms. This first-of-its-type event was also enthusiastically supported by hundreds of business and environmental groups nationwide.

  • On the same day, working with its member companies, SEIA launched its new “America Supports Solar” campaign, which highlights solar energy’s explosive growth across the U.S., as well as its record-shattering year in 2013.

It’s estimated that the U.S. now has 13 gigawatts of installed solar capacity—enough to power more than 2 million American homes. What’s more, when all of the 2013 numbers are in, solar is expected to account for more new electric generating capacity in the U.S. than any other renewable energy source.

While 2013 was a record-breaking year, 2014 may be even better with 30 percent growth being forecast. Part of this unprecedented expansion is due to the fact that the average price of a solar system has dropped by more than 50 percent since 2010, benefitting consumers, businesses, schools and government entities.

And guess what?  There’s even more good news on the horizon. The Department of Energy’s (DOE) Sunshot Initiative, which is working on ways to make solar more competitive with entrenched energy sources, estimates that by 2020 soft costs should not exceed 65 cents per watt for residential solar systems and 44 cents per watt for commercial systems.

Today, 40 years after SEIA was formed, there are nearly 143,000 Americans employed by the U.S. solar industry at more than 6,100 American companies—with SEIA leading the fight to expand markets, remove market barriers, strengthen the industry and educate Americans about the benefits of solar energy. These efforts have led to the adoption of a wide range of smart public policies, including the solar Investment Tax Credit and net energy metering.

Considering solar energy’s humble beginnings in America, that is a remarkable record of achievement.

But you know what?  The best news flashes are still to come!

Visit EcoWatch’s RENEWABLES page for more related news on this topic.

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