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Solar Power Just Broke Another Record in the U.S.​

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When it comes to the country's energy future, the path is looking very bright—especially on rooftops across the U.S. American homes are going solar at rates higher than ever before, according to a new industry report.

A new solar industry report shows that the U.S. installed 1,393 MWdc in the second quarter of the year, bringing the market up to 2,722 MWdc in the first half of 2015.
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GTM Research and Solar Energy Industries Association (or SEIA, the national trade organization for America’s solar energy industry) released its Q2 2015 report showing that the country has exceeded 20 gigawatts of solar electric capacity in the first half of 2015—enough power for 4.6 million homes.

This could make 2015 on track for another banner year. So while 2014 already smashed records, it looks like 2015 is poised for even better growth.

"The second half of the year should be significantly larger than the first in terms of new deployments," the report said. "We anticipate a bevy of utility-scale project completions, combined with a continued ramp in the residential market and a commercial solar resurgence in select states to bolster installations through the rest of the year.

While the largest slice of the market comes from utility scale solar projects, residential solar installations especially stood out in the report. With a record 473 megawatts installed, the segment has grown 70 percent year-over-year.

As the Washington Post noted, the current report is projecting a total of 7.7 gigawatts solar photovoltaic installations this year, far surpassing last year's 6.2 gigawatts.

“The demand for solar energy is now higher than ever, and this report spells out how crucial it is for America to maintain smart, effective, forward-looking public policies, like the ITC [the Solar Investment Tax Credit], beyond 2016,” said Rhone Resch, SEIA president and CEO.

“At over 20 gigawatts of installed solar electric capacity, we now have enough solar in the U.S. to power 4.6 million homes, reducing harmful carbon emissions by more than 25 million metric tons a year," he continued. "Since the ITC was passed in 2006, U.S. solar growth has exploded and more than 150,000 American solar jobs have been created. By any measurement, that’s a success for both our economy and environment.”

While the non-residential market (which means neither rooftop nor utility-scale installations) finished the quarter down 33 percent from the same period last year, GTM Research suggested that community solar (which allows multiple people to subscribe to one solar energy project), as well as “improving market dynamics in several states" and financial innovation could improve numbers in this segment by the second half of 2015 and beyond.

The report follows President Obama's recent trip to Nevada in which he spoke about the great hope in solar and other renewable forms of energy.

During his speech, Obama said the growth in solar—which is 20 times bigger than it was in 2008, is “like evolving from the telegraph to the smartphone in less than a decade.”

The Obama administration "announced a series of measures to encourage solar power construction, including making an additional $1 billion in loan guarantee authority available in a federal program for innovative versions of residential rooftop solar systems," The New York Times reported.

This all comes on the heels of the President’s Clean Power Plan, which requires states to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. Much of those cuts would come from bringing more renewable energy projects online.

Here are key findings from the GTM Research and SEIA report:

  • The U.S. installed 1,393 MWdc of solar PV in Q2 2015, marking the seventh consecutive quarter in which the U.S. added more than 1 GWdc of PV installations.
  • Q2 2015 was a milestone quarter for the U.S. solar PV market, with cumulative installations eclipsing the 20 GWdc mark.
  • Throughout the first half of 2015, 40% of all new electric generating capacity brought on-line in the U.S. came from solar.
  • 21 states have now added more than 100 MWdc of solar PV, but the top five states still account for nearly three-fourths of cumulative U.S. PV installations.
  • 40% of the 16.6 GWdc utility PV pipeline in development has been procured primarily due to solar’s economic competitiveness with fossil-fuel alternatives.
  • We forecast that PV installations will reach 7.7 GWdc in 2015, up 24% over 2014. Growth will occur in all segments, but will be most rapid in the residential market.
  • 2014 was the largest year ever for concentrating solar power, with 767 MWac brought on-line. The next notable CSP project slated for completion is SolarReserve’s 110 MWac Crescent Dunes, which entered the commissioning phase in 2014 and is expected to become fully operational before the end of 2015.

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On Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor said nearly 60 percent of the state was abnormally dry, up from 46 percent just last week, according to The Mercury News in San Jose.

The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.

"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.

Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.

Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.

"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.

NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.

As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.

"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.

The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.

"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."

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