US federal government tips solar for leading energy role

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A new report published by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), which maps out the country’s new energy generation needs until 2040, predicts that solar will cement itself as the second-most important energy source after natural gas.

Despite diminishing demand for new electric generating additions between now and 2040 – the EIA forecasts an average of just 16 GW of new power capacity annually in the near-term, and just 9 GW of new capacity between 2016 and 2022 – solar power will come to play an increasingly important role in the country’s energy mix.

Natural gas and oil will remain the dominant driver of new power capacity, but the EIA expect renewable energy generation to expand its share of the energy mix, with solar leading the way.

Of the 351 GW of energy capacity additions expected to be added between now and 2040, 73% (255 GW) will come from natural gas-fired plants. However, 83 GW of the total figure will be generated by renewable energy, of which 39 GW will be derived from solar power. And of that 39 GW figure, 60% will come from rooftop installations as the U.S. solar PV industry matures and gains wider acceptance among the American public.

Commenting on the report, Solar Energy Industries Association CEO and president Rhone Resch said: "Solar is the fastest-growing source of renewable energy today and, as this report bears out, it will continue to be for years and years to come. The continued, rapid deployment of solar nationwide will create thousands of new American jobs, pump hundreds of billions of dollars into the U.S. economy and help to significantly reduce pollution.

"Just as importantly, it will also provide Americans with the freedom to decide how to power their homes, businesses, schools and government facilities in the future. With 60% of all new PV installations in the years ahead to be rooftop solar, significant savings will be generated when it comes to future energy costs."

Resch did warn, however, that solar’s progress could be jeopardized if current support schemes such as the solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC), net metering system and renewable portfolio standards (RPS) continue to come under attack by entrenched fossil fuel interests. "Of immediate concern," he added, "we are strongly urging Congress to adopt ‘commence construction’ language this year, allowing project developers to take full advantage of highly successful solar ITC and giving Americans access to new, affordable clean energy sources."

The report, titled Annual Energy Outlook 2014, found that the U.S. will require reduced capacities of new energy annually until at least 2040, citing the post-millennium boom years as a bonanza period for energy capacity additions that have resulted in surplus capacity relative to required reserve energy margins in many regions of the country.

The report also drafted a snapshot ‘certain-case scenarios’ of which one – the No Sunset case – assumes that existing federal energy policies, such as the solar ITC, are extended. In such a scenario, new renewable energy capacity additions until 2040 would amount to 265 GW. An unlikely, but nonetheless encouraging, scenario.