Solar power in the United States

Solar power in the United States

Solar power in the United States is the largest available energy source for the United States, although in 2006 it accounted for less than 0.1% of electricity generation. Renewable resources (solar, wind, geothermal, hydroelectric, biomass, and waste) provided nearly 12 percent of the Nation's electricity supply in 2003. [ [ Renewable Resources in the U.S. Electricity Supply] ]


A new report finds that solar power's contribution could grow to 10% of the nation's power needs by 2025. The report, prepared by research and publishing firm Clean Edge and the nonprofit Co-op America, projects nearly 2% of the nation's electricity coming from concentrating solar power systems, while solar photovoltaic systems will provide more than 8% of the nation's electricity. Those figures correlate to nearly 50,000 megawatts of solar photovoltaic systems and more than 6,600 megawatts of concentrating solar power.

As noted in the report, solar power has been expanding rapidly in the past 8 years, growing at an average pace of 40% per year. The cost per kilowatt-hour of solar photovoltaic systems has also been dropping, while electricity generated from fossil fuels is becoming more expensive. As a result, the report projects that solar power will reach cost parity with conventional power sources in many U.S. markets by 2015. But to reach the 10% goal, solar photovoltaic companies will also need to streamline installations and make solar power a "plug-and-play" technology, that is, it must be simple and straightforward to buy the components of the system, connect them together, and connect the system to the power grid.

The report also places some of the responsibility with electric utilities, which will need to take advantage of the benefits of solar power, incorporate it into future "smart grid" technologies, and create new business models for building solar power capacity. The report also calls for establishing long-term extensions of today's investment and production tax credits, creating open standards for connecting solar power systems to the grid, and giving utilities the ability to include solar power in their rate base.

Large-Scale U.S. Solar Power Facilities

Large-Scale U.S. solar power facilities are becoming commonplace [ EERE News: EERE Network News ] ] . A spate of announced plans to build large solar power facilities throughout the United States seems to indicate that relatively large-scale systems are becoming commonplace. The trend is most apparent in concentrating solar power (CSP), with a number of facilities in the planning stages with capacities greater than 100 megawatts (MW).

For PV systems, even a 1-MW facility is quite large, although megawatt-scale systems are now planned for many parts of the country. In late April, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter announced that a megawatt-scale PV system will be installed at the Philadelphia Navy Yard in Pennsylvania. In late May, Duke Energy Carolinas announced plans to buy all the power from a 16-MW PV facility, to be built north of Charlotte, North Carolina. SunEdison LLC is building the facility and expects to have it running by 2010. In mid-June, Pepco Energy Services [ [ Pepco Energy Services ] ] was awarded a contract to install a 2.36-MW PV system on the roof of the Atlantic City Convention Center in New Jersey, with the installation to be completed by the end of the year, and in late June, enXco [ [ enXco - Our Energy Knows No Limits ] ] agreed to install a 1.3-MW system and a 0.5-MW system on two warehouses in South Plainfield, New Jersey, under a contract with Hall's Warehouse Corporation. First Solar, Inc. has announced that it will install a 2-MW PV system on the roof of a commercial building in Fontana, California, and at least 7.5 MW of ground-mounted PV panels in Blythe, California, with the power from both systems to be sold to Southern California Edison (SCE).

olar thermal power plants

The largest solar power plant in the world is the 354 MW SEGS thermal power plant, in California. [ [ SEGS III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII & IX] ]

Each of California's electric utilities are required to provide 20% of their electricity from renewable sources by 2017. Sterling Energy Systems is building a convert|4500|acre|km2|sing=on sun farm to supply 500 MW by 2012. Output will go to Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric. [ [ Sun Rises on Solar] ] Annual output is expected to be 1,047 GWh. [ [ Press Release] ] California electricity consumption was 272,464 GWh in 2005. [ [ California Electricity Consumption by County in 2005] ] The federal Bureau of Land Management has received right-of-way requests for the development of approximately 34 large solar thermal power plants on convert|300000|acre|km2 in California totaling approximately 24,000 megawatts. Projects under development include Ivanpah Solar, a 400 MW solar tower, the Carrizo Solar Farm, a 177 MW compact linear fresnel reflector, the Beacon Solar Energy Project, a 250 MW solar trough, and Harper Lake Solar, a 250 MW solar trough. [ [ Large Solar Energy Projects] ]

Concentrating solar power

Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) signed a power purchase contract for a a 106.8-MW CSP plant near Coalinga, California, about convert|60|mi|km southwest of Fresno with a subsidiary of Martifer Renewables Electricity LLC in June 2008. Slated to start operation in 2011, the facility will produce power from biomass fuels when the sun is not available, allowing for constant power production. [cite news |first=David R. |last=Baker |title=Coalinga solar plant would also burn manure |url= |work=San Francisco Chronicle |date=2008-06-12 |accessdate=2008-08-24] []

The four largest utilities in New Mexico, including Public Service Company of New Mexico, issued a request for proposals (RFP) in late June 2008 to build a CSP plant in the state on the scale of about 100 MW. Bids are due by September 26, 2008 and a contract should be issued by January 2009, with the goal of commercial operation by 2012. [cite news |first=Michael G. |last=Murphy |title=4 Utilities Seek N.M. Solar Plant; Giant Facility Could Serve 52,000 Homes |work=Albuquerque Journal |date=2008-07-01 ] []

Both the California and New Mexico facilities will use parabolic trough-shaped mirrors to concentrate the sun's heat.

Florida Power & Light Company (FPL) is moving ahead with its plans to deploy solar power in the Sunshine State. The utility plans to build a 75-MW CSP facility in Indiantown, just east of Lake Okeechobee. The solar thermal facility will help to reduce natural gas consumption at the power plant. The project was approved by the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) on July 15 2008 .

Photovoltaics in the U.S.

USDOE announced on 2008-09-29 that it will invest $17.6 million, subject to annual appropriations, in six company-led, early-stage photovoltaic (PV) projects under the Solar America Initiative's "PV Incubator" funding opportunity. The "PV Incubator" project is designed to fund prototype PV components and systems with the goal of moving them through the commercialization process by 2010. The 2008 award will be the second funding opportunity released under the PV Incubator project. With the cost share from industry, which will be at least 20%, up to $35.4 million will be invested in these projects. The projects will run for 18 months, and will be subcontracted through DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Most of the projects will receive up to $3 million in funding, with the exception of Solasta and Spire Semiconductor, which will receive up to $2.6 million and $2.97 million, respectively. Massachusetts-based 1366 Technologies will develop a new cell architecture for low-cost, multi-crystalline silicon cells, which will enhance cell performance through improved light-trapping texturing and grooves for self-aligned metallization fingers. California's Innovalight will use ink-jet printing to transfer their "silicon ink" onto thin-crystalline silicon wafers to produce high-efficiency, low-cost solar cells and modules. Skyline Solar, also in California, will develop an integrated, lightweight, single-axis tracked system that reflects and concentrates sunlight over 10 times onto silicon cells. Solasta, in Massachusetts, is working on a novel cell design that increases currents and lowers the materials cost. Solexel, another California-based company, will commercialize a disruptive, 3D high-efficiency mono-crystalline silicon cell technology that dramatically reduces manufacturing cost per watt. Finally, Spire Semiconductor in New Hampshire will develop three-junction tandem solar cells that better optimize the optical properties of their device layers; the company is targeting cell efficiencies over 42% using a low-cost manufacturing method .

The PV Incubator project is part of the Solar America Initiative, which aims to make solar energy cost-competitive with conventional forms of electricity by 2015 [] .


Florida Power & Light plans to install 25 MW of solar panels at a site in DeSoto County, east of Sarasota. Construction will begin by the end of 2008 year on what will be the world's largest PV power facility (although larger projects are now planned for Europe).

FPL will also install a 10-MW PV project at the Kennedy Space Center .

Nellis Solar Power Plant

The Nellis Solar Power Plant was completed in December, 2007. It is the largest solar photovoltaic system in North America and is located at Nellis Air Force Base in Clark County, Nevada. It includes approximately 70,000 solar panels and the peak power generation capacity of the plant is approximately 15 megawatts. [ [,+08:00+AM Largest U.S. Solar Photovoltaic System Begins Construction at Nellis Air Force Base] ] [ [ Nellis activates Nations largest PV Array] ]

Pacific Gas & Electric

On August 14, 2008, Pacific Gas & Electric Company announced agreements to buy the power from two proposed PV plants in San Luis Obispo County, California with a total peak power of 800 MW. Both projects are contingent upon the extension of the federal investment tax credit for renewable energy. [ cite web
title= PG&E Signs Historic 800 MW Photovoltaic Solar Power Agreements With Optisolar and Sunpower
date= 2008-08-14 |publisher= Pacific Gas & Electric
accessdate= 2008-08-15

Distributed solar power

Thousands and soon millions of homes, as well as many schools and businesses will include photovoltaic solar panels on their roofs. Most of these will be grid connected and use net metering laws to allow use of electricity in the evening that was generated during the daytime. New Jersey leads the nation with the least restrictive net metering law, [ [ Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency] ] while California leads in total number of homes which have solar panels installed. Many were installed because of the million solar roof initiative. [ [ Million Solar Roofs Initiative] ] California decided that it was not moving forward fast enough on photovoltaic generation and has enacted a Feed-in Tariff. [ [ Are Feed-in Tariffs a Possibility in California?] ] [ [ California Approves Feed-In Tariffs, Rewards Energy Efficiency] ] Washington state has a feed-in tariff of 15 ₡/kWh which increases to 54 ₡/kWh if components are manufactured in the state. [ [ Washington State Passes Progressive Renewable Energy Legislation] ] Hawaii and Michigan are also considering feed in tariffs. A comparison of the 38 states plus Washington D.C. which have net metering gives five an A and five an F. [ [ Report: States Falling Short on Interconnection and Net Metering] ]

Many of the homes, schools and businesses which have installed solar panels can be monitored online on the internet. [ [ Live monitoring] ]

Another proposal for distributed generation is to cover the nation's parking lots with solar car parks.


A complete list of incentives is maintained at the Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy (DSIRE) (see external link).


*A 30% tax credit is available for commercial installations. [ [ Federal Solar Tax Credits] Retrieved 15 August 2008]
*For residential installations the 30% tax credit is limited to $2,000. [ [ Residential Solar and Fuel Cell Tax Credit] Retrieved 15 August 2008]

States and local

*The San Francisco´s Board of Supervisors passed solar incentives of up to $6,000 for homeowners and up to $10,000 for businesses. [ [ San Francisco Offers Solar Subsidies] ] Applications for the program began on July 1, 2008. [ [ Final changes and logistics of the SF Solar Incentive Program Explained] ]
*California Solar Initiative
*New Hampshire has a $6,000 residential rebate program for up to 50% of system cost for systems up to 5 kW. [ [ Renewable Energy Generation Incentive Program] ]

Public land

The Bureau of Land Management will continue to process 125 existing applications for solar plants covering almost one million acres, but has announced it would not accept any new applications until after an environmental assessment is completed. [ [ US Congress to debate German-style feed-in tariff] ]

An April 24, 2007 article in the Christian Science Monitor titled "Green Power May Ruin Pristine Land In California" cited environmentalist opposition to a proposed solar power project in California. Justin Augustine of the Center for Biological Diversity was quoted as saying, "There is absolutely no reason to go through the best wild lands and wild views of a national forest and private conservancy lands." April Sall of Wildlands Conservancy was quoted as saying, "This is another example of public representatives and the LADWP not understanding the sensitivity of the desert and making uninformed unilateral decisions." [ [ Green Power May Ruin Pristine Land In California] , Christian Science Monitor, April 24, 2007]

The Alliance For Responsible Energy Policy criticized a proposed solar power project by saying that the project "... will destroy millions of acres of public lands. ... Thousands of miles of unnecessary transmission lines... will be added to our Nation's antiquated and dangerous power grid. Additionally, millions of gallons of scarce desert groundwater will be lost every year... to wash the thousands of mirrors..." [ [ The Big Solar Invasion] ]

Elden Hughes, who has worked with the Sierra Club, was quoted as saying, "We have worked for decades to protect the desert. . . . Let's not trash what we've saved." [ [ Renewable-energy push puts all eyes on desert] , The San Diego Union-Tribune, June 3, 2008]

See also

* American Solar Energy Society
* List of photovoltaics companies
* Low cost solar power
* Renewable energy in the United States


External links

* [ panels on the White House] .
*National Renewable Energy Laboratory:
** [ Photovoltaic (PV) research]
** [ Powered By Renewables] .
* [ Intersolar North America]
* [ Solar calculator]
* [ Study: Solar Power Could Provide 10% of U.S. Electricity by 2025]
* [ The Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy (DSIRE)]
* [ Live monitoring] of over 1400 solar installations
* [ Solar Power International] .
* [ Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA)]
* [ Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA)]


* [ Solar Investment Credit FINALLY Passed] .

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