Solar experiences U.S. boom

The position of solar in the U.S. energy market has continued to improve dramatically, according to research co-published by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

The research, published in the 2015 Factbook: Sustainable Energy in America, posits that the recovery of the American economy has fueled, and in turn been fueled by its sustainable energy sector. The overall conclusion of the report is that ‘the broader U.S. ecosystem is clearly preparing for a future in which sustainable sources of energy play a much larger role’.

Speaking about solar and wind specifically, the report states, “Wind and solar have been the fastest growing technologies, having more than tripled in capacity since 2008 (from 27 GW to 87 GW in 2014). Hydropower is the largest source of US renewable energy at 79 GW (excluding pumped storage).”

Later, the report adds, “Wind and solar both saw increased levels of build in 2014, but for different reasons. Solar build in 2014 was almost 50 per cent higher than in 2013 and 24 times higher than in 2008. The industry is ramping up briskly, and project pipelines today suggest even bigger numbers for 2015 and 2016.”

Investment in the sector also grew, said the report, citing the increase in venture capital and private equity activity after a quiet 2013. This, the authors state, was because of the opportunities of rooftop PV becoming more and more apparent to investors. “Rooftop PV had a banner year in 2014,” the report states, “driven by strong growth in both the residential and commercial segments. Asset finance for this sector also saw a big jump ($7.8 billion in 2013 to $12.9 billion in 2014), despite declining systems prices.”

However, it is not all good news as the report’s authors predict that the ‘dramatic growth’ in utility-scale PV, is to ‘level off’ in 2015. The reason it gives for this is a thinning of the pipeline in California, which has until now been driven by the State’s Renewable Portfolio Standard.

Overall, however, the news was very positive: “The US finished the year as the second highest-ranked country in terms of total new dollars attracted for clean energy investment; China was first. Global investment in the sector was $310 billion in 2014, up 16 per cent on 2013 levels, and near its 2011 peak of $318 billion. Among the largest drivers of these investment figures are the categories of asset financing for wind and financing for small distributed capacity –essentially, rooftop solar. In 2014, the US was the world’s second-largest market for new wind installations, behind China, and third-largest for solar, behind China and Japan.”

The report was put together in cooperation with The Business Council for Sustainable Energy, which bills itself as a coalition of companies and trade associations from the energy efficiency, natural gas, and renewable energy sectors. Membership of the council also includes independent electric power producers, investor-owned utilities, public power, commercial end-users, project developers, and service providers for energy and environmental markets.