New U.S. Solar Capacity Just Outperformed Fossil Fuels


The solar industry added more new generating capacity this past quarter than coal, natural gas, and nuclear power combined, according to the U.S. Solar Market Insight report released Thursday.

With 1,665 megawatts brought online in the first quarter of 2016, solar accounted for 64 percent of all new electric generating capacity, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) report said. One megawatt of solar power can energize roughly 160 homes, though that depends on average sunshine, average household electricity consumption, and other factors. According to the report, there are now more than a million operating solar photovoltaic installations across the country, representing 27.5 gigawatts of operating capacity. Just one gigawatt is enough electricity to power about 700,000 average homes.

Renewable energy in general has begun to beat fossil fuels in new installed capacity on a more and more regular basis. Solar grows by leaps and bounds. Residential solar and utility PV both beat natural gas in the first quarter of 2015 in terms of new capacity. In the first quarter of 2014, solar installations accounted for 74 percent of all new U.S. electric capacity.

Renewable energy installations have experienced record growth in recent times as the technology becomes increasingly cheaper, and developers rushed to take advantage of federal tax cuts that were extended in December giving the industry a push and stability for several years.


Some states, like California, have implemented renewable energy mandates. Another important player is technological innovations. Every year solar panels are able to turn more sunlight into electricity, which makes the industry an increasingly strong alternative to fossil fuels. Coal, gas, and oil still dominate the electricity market but unavoidably produce greenhouse gas emissions that exacerbate climate change.

The Little-Known Reason Renewable Prices Are DroppingPlummeting costs for renewable energy have finally made solar and wind a viable alternative to fossil fuels. But what’s…thinkprogress.orgHowever, the report notes that California, a state that consistently tops solar development charts, showed flat growth last quarter. That is unlikely to continue as the year unfolds, according to the report. Meanwhile, the rooftop solar market — which some environmentalists prefer since it avoids land disturbance — is becoming increasingly fragmented and complicated as debates over net metering and rate design continue in many states. Still, New York’s and Maryland’s rooftop solar markets experienced over 25 percent growth this quarter.

“While it took us 40 years to hit 1 million U.S. solar installations, we’re expected to hit 2 million within the next two years,” said Tom Kimbis, SEIA’s interim president, in a statement. “The solar industry is growing at warp speed, driven by the fact that solar is one of the lowest cost options for electricity and it’s being embraced by people who both care about the environment and want access to affordable and reliable electricity.”

The growth of solar SEIA reported is consistent with various studies, including one the U.S. Energy Information Administration released in March that said utility-scale solar projects will add more new capacity to the nation’s grid than any other industry this year. This growth, in turn, means jobs. Just last year, the solar industry added job twelve times faster than the rest of the economy, topping even oil and gas extraction and pipeline sectors combined.

U.S. Solar Created More Jobs Than Oil And Gas ExtractionClimate by CREDIT: AP PHOTO/JERRY MCBRIDE Over the last year, the solar industry added jobs twelve times faster than…thinkprogress.orgBut solar is growing not just in the United States. The United Kingdom has embraced renewables in lieu of coal, and last month for the first time ever, solar produced more electricity than coal there. Moreover, China, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, has become the largest investor in renewable energy and is now responsible for about a third of global investments in green electricity. The United States, the second largest emitter, is second.