Energy & Environment

2016 is a breakthrough year for solar

Over the past few months, we’ve seen a rush of exciting developments in solar, some giving us insight into how distributed energy may work in the future.

Thanks to tax credits (ITC) being renewed, 2016 will be a breakthrough year for U.S. solar, rising a stunning 119 percent. Sixteen gigawatts (GW) are expected to be installed, shattering last year’s record 7.3 GW, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and GTM Research. In February, we passed a wonderful milestone as the millionth home was outfitted with a solar system. About 300,000 Americans will install solar this year.

{mosads}Sixty of the world’s largest corporations have joined the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance (REBA), to make it easier for companies to buy renewable energy directly from utilities. Right now, it’s complicated: They either have to negotiate separately with utilities to get the amount of energy they need or sign long-term power purchase agreements with developers. Smaller companies don’t use enough electricity to participate. The alliance is challenging utilities to add 60 GW by 2025.

In more great news, 17 states joined the “Governors’ Accord for a New Energy Future” to make a clean energy future a reality. Governors say they will establish goals and benchmarks to accelerate energy efficiency and renewables, modernize the grid, and incentivize clean transportation.

Signatories represent 40 percent of U.S. population: Hawaii, California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Delaware, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Vermont.

And the International Solar Alliance held its first meeting. The goal is to mobilize $1 trillion for “massive deployment of affordable solar energy by 2030.” One-hundred-and-twenty countries have signed up!

Community solar is expected to take off in 2016, and a trade association has formed to push this wildly popular option, the Coalition for Community Solar Access. These shared arrays always quickly sell out because half of Americans either rent or don’t have enough sun on their roof for solar.

One of the innovative uses of community solar is in Minnesota, where the Rural Renewable Energy Alliance (RREAL) is providing solar electricity in lieu of cash for energy assistance. Xcel Energy, a utility, plans to double the amount of solar on its Minnesota grid by giving customers the option of participating in community solar projects.

Innovative new models appear

You have too much shade on your roof for solar panels, but your neighbors have plenty of sun, producing more than they need. Why not buy electricity from their solar arrays instead of from the grid? That’s what is happening in Brooklyn, N.Y. and soon, in Boston. It runs on Ethereum, a technology created for secure Bitcoin transactions — it monitors energy flows through the system and allows residents to buy and sell energy through the peer-to-peer network.

Arizona’s largest utility, Arizona Public Service (APS), is testing advanced solar inverters to operate rooftop solar systems remotely, turning them into “power plants.” It allows APS to either ramp up or curtail electricity flows into the grid based on customers’ real-time energy needs.

“Energy used to flow in one direction, from our power plants to a customer’s home or business. That is no longer true today,” says Scott Bordenkircher, director of technology Innovation at APS.

More solar news:

• Oregon joined California, New York and Hawaii in shooting for 50 percent renewable energy. In California, the largest utility, PG&E, is now using 30 percent solar energy.

• San Francisco unanimously approved changes to its building code, requiring all new buildings to have solar systems starting next year. The first large city to do this, it builds on California’s building energy codes that require new and renovated buildings to be “solar ready”: oriented toward the south, roofs clear and unshaded. The city’s goal is to reach 100 percent renewable electricity by 2025.

• 2.5 million people in the U.S. work in renewable energy, energy efficiency, clean vehicles and fuels, more than coal mining, petroleum extraction, pipeline and railroad industries combined. And more people work in clean energy than in real estate or agriculture, says Environmental Entrepreneurs’ (E2) “Clean Jobs America” report. Energy efficiency is by far the biggest job-creator, employing nearly 1.9 million Americans.

• In the US, solar jobs grew 22 percent and wind jobs grew 21 percent over the past year.

• Worldwide, 8.1 million people work in renewable energy. The top countries are China, the U.S., Japan, Brazil, India and Germany. Solar PV is the biggest employer at 2.8 million people, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

Fried, Ph.D., is CEO of, known for its daily green business news and national green jobs service since 1996. She selects the constituents for NASDAQ’s Green Economy Index.

Tags Renewable energy renewables solar Solar energy

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