U.S. Solar Power in 2013

Brian Hicks

Written By Brian Hicks

Posted February 13, 2013

This year, 2013 will see a changing of the tide for United States renewable energy generation, and for the first time it is solar energy that will topple the reigning king: wind power.

2012 was like a huge wind storm, where wind energy installations took over natural gas installations for the first time and became leader of the pack. In 2012, 13.1 gigawatts of wind turbines were installed, Bloomberg reports.

And wind energy was out producing solar as well—nothing new. Renewable Energy World reports wind farms generated 120.2 terawatt-hours of energy compared to solar’s mere 1.8 terawatt-hours in 2011, a trend that would continue through most of 2012.

There was pressure to complete projects before the end of 2012 for fears that the federal production tax credit (PTC) would be cut off. But all the due diligence was for naught because the PTC was eventually extended one year to help prevent the “fiscal cliff.” Now, wind farms that begin projects in 2013 can also collect the tax credit.

Even with the tax credit extension, wind projects are slumping into 2013; it was imperative (or so thought) that existing projects be completed by the New Year, and there simply weren’t any future plans made for 2013. All the momentum built up through 2012 has slowed to a snail’s pace.

That, coupled with the fact that solar panel prices have fallen more than 60 percent in the last two years and construction costs are low, has given way to the year of solar.

It is speculated that solar projects will almost certainly surpass the 3-4 gigawatts of wind turbines that are anticipated in the U.S. this year.

Duke Energy Corp. (NYSE: DUK) president Gregory Wolf told Bloomberg:

“We really ramped up our solar in 2010. Today most of the projects are half or less of the cost now than then.”

Wolf said Duke’s renewable energy investments now exceed $2.5 billion. And the company isn’t concerned with the green image it has received; what’s most important is to assess the risks and rewards and make good projects come to fruition.

General Motors Company (NYSE: GM) has also jumped at the opportunity for solar energy in the year 2013. The company joined the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), a group that focuses on the U.S. solar industry.

The SEIA ranked General Motors as the No. 1 automotive solar user in the U.S. last year.

From PV Magazine:

“Part of our renewable energy goal as a company involves helping other organizations learn how to successfully implement renewable energy strategies,” said Rob Threlkeld, renewable energy manager for GM. “Joining SEIA enables us to reach a pool of like-minded companies committed to making solar energy a significant energy source.”

Despite the push for solar energy in the future, the U.S. is still outshone by none other than Germany—the world leader in solar energy.

This superiority in the industry has nothing to do with sunlight; in fact, Germany’s light comparable to the amount of light that the state of Alaska receives. Although it has no significant advantage when it comes to solar potential (nearly every region of the continental U.S. has more potential) it will still have installed 30 gigawatts of solar capacity, compared to the U.S.’s measly 6.4 gigawatts of solar capacity, the Washington Post reports.

The main reason for such a dramatic difference is simple: policy. For years, the German government has been subsidizing the use and implementation of renewable energy. Every day citizens are given opportunities that we have yet to take advantage of here in the U.S.

It’s also much cheaper—about half the cost for the whole installation process in Germany compared to the U.S.

Solar energy is being harnessed more and more in the U.S. with government given tax credits; the possibilities and attractive incentives make solar more of an option.

It’s still an expensive form of energy, but if the last two to three years are any indication, costs of solar power are in rapid decline.

Justin Williams

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