Solar Power Will Surpass Wind, Coal to Become Second Highest in Nation
New solar power plants and rooftop systems will be popping up across the nation this year, as solar becomes the second-highest source of power generation. By the end of 2013, solar power is expected to add more electricity to the U.S. grid than all other power sources except for natural gas. In fact, the planned capacity additions in the U.S. from 2012 to 2015 put solar power at 7,709 MW, trailed by wind power at 7,281 MW and coal at 5,160 MW, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The additional capacity of natural gas is projected to reach 26,462 MW – more than three times the amount of solar.
The generation of coal electric power has faced increasing pressure to reduce its production of harmful carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Tough federal regulations now require coal power plants to install costly pollution-controlling equipment. Across the nation, more coal-fired plants are opting to close instead of investing in the necessary equipment to comply with the new standards. These clean energy regulations are helping renewables become more widespread while bringing costs down.
“The two most successful clean power sources over the past couple decades have been on-shore wind and natural gas,” says John Miller, an energy consultant and professional engineer who has been in the clean energy business for 35 years.
But the success of harnessing energy from the sun speaks for itself, as new solar power construction surpasses that of wind power. As solar energy comes into parity with other energy sources, it becomes a more practical option in both the commercial and residential sectors.
Recurrent Energy CEO Arno Harris reveals that rooftop solar systems can now be installed for $4 per watt, and utility scale systems are down to around $2 per watt – making solar cost-competitive with traditional electricity.
“Solar, once the most expensive source of electric power, is now one of the three least expensive sources of power (solar, wind, and natural gas),” Harris writes on his blog. “This remarkable transformation has all but guaranteed solar will have a mainstream role in our energy future. And it means our country can ‘get clean’ without breaking the bank.”
In the U.S. Solar Market Insight 2012 Year in Review, GTM Research predicts that the solar industry will increase by 30% and produce 4.3 gigawatts of new electricity this year. Harris notes that this is the first year solar will deliver more electricity than wind or coal, and still he calls these forecasted figures “conservative.”