If you’d like to read a more in-depth history of solar energy, check out the Institute for Energy Research!
If you were to buy a solar panel in the 80’s, you’d probably spend a fortune. However since solar panels first hit the mainstream market back then, solar costs have actually fallen by 10% every year, which has made residential solar panel installations a popular and progressive choice. This, alongside more efficient solar cells has certainly created great incentive to invest today than ever before in history.
Just take a look at how many people are using solar technology in the states today. In 2016, the U.S. had 1 million solar installations completed –and just this year– 2 million installations were completed for both commercial and residential use. That’s a staggering one million installations in just the past three years. That number is incredible considering the first official installation was done by President Jimmy Carter in the 1970’s.
Today you can expect an average efficiency of about 15-20%, which is a far-cry from the 6% efficiency of the fifties.
Finally, today the average cost per watt varies between only $.90 to $1.50. But this also depends if you buy monocrystalline or polycrystalline solar panels, which you can learn more about the differences and various pros and cons of here.
In the last decade alone, solar has experienced an average annual growth rate of 48%. Thanks to strong federal policies like the solar Investment Tax Credit, rapidly declining costs, and increasing demand across the private and public sector for clean electricity, there are now nearly 78 gigawatts (GW) of solar capacity installed nationwide, enough to power 14.5 million homes.
Nearly 250,000 Americans work in solar - more than double the number in 2012 - at more than 10,000 companies in every U.S. state. In 2019, the solar industry generated $18 billion of investment in the American economy.
The cost to install solar has dropped by more than 70% over the last decade, leading the industry to expand into new markets and deploy thousands of systems nationwide. Prices as of Q4 2019 are at their lowest levels in history across all market segments. An average-sized residential system has dropped from a pre-incentive price of $40,000 in 2010 to roughly $18,000 today, while recent utility-scale prices range from $16/MWh - $35/MWh, competitive with all other forms of generation.
Solar has ranked first or second in new electric capacity additions in each of the last years. In 2019, 40% of all new electric capacity added to the grid came from solar, the largest such share in history. Solar’s increasing competitiveness against other technologies has allowed it to quickly increase its share of total U.S. electrical generation - from just 0.1% in 2010 to more than 2.5% today.
While California has traditionally dominated the U.S. solar market, other markets are continuing to expand rapidly. In 2019, states outside of California made up their largest share of the market in the last decade, led by rapid growth in Florida and Texas. As the price of solar continues to fall, new state entrants will grab an increasingly larger share of the national market.
The biggest cost-decline opportunity in residential and small commercial solar exists in soft costs, which includes labor, permitting/inspection/interconnection, supply chain, customer acquisition and other overhead costs. As hardware costs have fallen, soft costs have increased as a share of total system costs primarily due to increased customer acquisition costs and inconsistent building code and permitting practices across jurisdictions.
Homeowners and businesses are increasingly demanding solar systems that are paired with battery storage. While this pairing is still relatively new, the growth over the next five years is expected to be significant. By 2025, more than 25% of all behind-the-meter solar systems will be paired with storage, compared to under 5% in 2019. The utility-scale market is also recognizing the benefits of pairing solar with storage, with over 8 GW of commissioned projects including storage, representing nearly 1 in 5 contracted projects.
The residential solar market experienced a record year in 2019 as costs continued to fall and solar expanded into more state markets. While California had its strongest year ever due to the emergence of solar+storage as a remedy for disruptive power shutoffs, emerging markets had also enjoyed strong growth with over a quarter of all installations coming from markets outside the top 10. Future growth is expected across the country as prices continue to fall and combined solar + storage systems become increasingly viable.
The rapid rise of community solar has boosted the non-residential segment in recent years, coupled with increasing numbers of rooftop installations by such companies as Walmart, Apple, Target and Amazon. Both sub-segments are expected to drive growth in non-residential going forward, though 2019 saw a slower growth as a few key state markets transition to new rate structures and distributed generation programs.
After several years of uncertainty due to the imposition of solar module tariffs, declines in the tariff rates combined with the scheduled step-down of the Investment Tax Credit have led to increased utility-scale procurement. More than 30 GW of new utility-scale PV projects were announced in 2019, helping the total contracted pipeline soar to an all-time high of 48.1 GW, despite deploying over 8 GW of projects in 2019, the second-highest total on record.
After 2% market decline in 2018 due to module tariff impacts on utility-scale project development timelines, growth resumed in 2019 with more than 13 GW installed. Based on forecasts developed prior to the coronavirus outbreak, installations were scheduled to grow across all market segments in 2020 and 2021 as prices drop and developers accelerate build-out ahead of Investment Tax Credit declines. Over the next 5 years, total installed solar capacity will more than double, with cumulative deployment topping 100 GW by 2021.
Data from SEIA's annual Solar Means Business report show that major U.S. corporations, including Apple, Amazon, Target, and Walmart are investing in solar and renewable energy at an incredible rate. Through 2018, the top corporate solar users in America have installed more than 7,000 MW of capacity across more than 35,000 different facilities across the country.