A new report from Baird Equity Research outlines the inroads made by solar energy the past two years and projects the industry’s continued growth over the long term. In particular, the report cites increased installations, decreasing costs, and consistent technological advancements as key contributors to the industry’s success.
Declining costs and improved technology have driven solar installations worldwide to grow at a compound annual growth rate of roughly 47% between 2006 and 2016, outpacing wind, hydropower, natural gas, and coal. New solar installations across the globe eclipsed new installations of all other forms of energy generation in 2016 and, once the data is final, the same is expected in 2017 as well. As solar panel technology has become more efficient (average monocrystalline module efficiency is expected to be roughly 18.3% in 2017, up from 15.8% in 2012), the cost of solar power has been lower than expected. The worldwide average of utility-scale solar levelized cost of electricity has declined roughly 13% annually since 2009. In the U.S. in particular, the average price of utility-scale solar is now 6 cents per kilowatt-hour, which meets exactly the U.S. Department of Energy’s relatively ambitious 2020 SunShot program target three years ahead of schedule. In the United States, on average, solar electricity is now slightly cheaper than natural gas and nuclear energy and much cheaper than coal.
Approximately 73 gigawatts of new solar capacity were added worldwide in 2016, exceeding new capacity added for wind, hydropower, natural gas, and coal. U.S. solar generation in particular rose 47% for the first three quarters of 2017, while solar generation worldwide is expected to rise from roughly 5% to between 7% and 32% of total generation by 2040.
On December 11, two major solar power plants, with a combined generating capacity of 170 megawatts, were recognized as fully commissioned and began commercial operation on Bureau of Land Management property in southern Nevada. In a recent interview, Bureau of Land Management Nevada director John Ruhs revealed that more solar projects on federally held land are likely in the works.