Last year was a banner year for solar energy in the U.S. New figures released last week by GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) in “Solar Market Insight Year in Review 2013,” found that new photovoltaic installations increased 41 percent over 2012. Last year, 4,751 MW (megawatts) of new solar was installed along with, 410 MV of additional concentrating solar power.
At the end of 2013 there were more than 440,000 operating solar electric systems in the U.S. totaling over 12,000 megawatts of photovoltaics (PV) and 918 megawatts of concentrating solar power (CSP).
The fourth quarter alone accounted for 44 percent of the annual total of solar installations. The U.S. installed 2,106 megawatts in Q4 of 2013 making it by far the largest quarter in the history of the U.S. solar market, surpassing the second-largest quarter by 60 percent.
The huge increase last year meant that solar was the second-largest source of new electricity generating capacity in the country, exceeded only by natural gas. Additionally, the cost to install solar continues to fall. The cost of solar ended the year 15 percent below the mark set at the end of 2012.
“Last year alone, solar created tens of thousands of new American jobs and pumped tens of billions of dollars into the U.S. economy,” SEIA CEO Rhone Resch said. “In fact, more solar has been installed in the U.S. in the last eighteen months than in the 30 years prior. That’s a remarkable record of achievement. Today, solar is the fastest-growing source of renewable energy in America, generating enough clean, reliable and affordable electricity to power more than 2.2 million homes,” he added
The news about the record year for solar energy follows the release of a new national survey about consumer trends on sustainability. A national poll, commissioned by SolarCity and the research firm Clean Edge, found that 55 percent of consumers are actively seeking green products and services. Given a choice between a green product or service and a non-green product of similar quality and price, consumers choose green by a large margin. The next generation is even more pro-green in their consumption patterns.
The poll concluded that green market segments are growing much faster than their conventional counterparts. They are still comparatively small, but they have a large addressable market to grow into. Consumers want to act, and they want choice, the survey concluded.
Four major national studies in the last two years confirm that the percentage of adults that favor sustainable or green products is above of 50 percent and growing. According to Shelton Group, 55 percent of the population falls into the categories of “Actives or Seekers” that make purchases due to environmental values and/or health-related sustainability issues.
Cone Communications reports that 82 percent of consumers are more likely to purchase a product that demonstrates a company’s corporate social responsibility initiatives than one that does not. Also, Gibbs & Soell found that 72 percent of adults have an interest in learning about company sustainability initiatives.
Another survey by Vestas/TNS Gallup concluded that 71 percent of consumers are interested in ways to decrease their electricity consumption and 62 percent would be more willing to purchase products from brands that use green (wind) energy.
The downside is, the majority are still unwilling to pay a premium for it. Vestas/TND Gallup reported that 51 percent of consumers are unwilling to pay more for products made with renewable energy. That is why solar installations increased as the price dropped.
Perhaps the winter storms, made worse by climate change, will make Americans more willing to put their money where their mouth is when it comes to clean energy. This winter may drive home the fact that climate change is already costing consumers and taxpayers billions. It is now, not in the future.
Meanwhile we can celebrate solar’s great year.