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Solar power in the United States includes utility-scale solar power plants as well as local distributed generation, mostly from rooftop photovoltaics. In mid-2013, the U.S. passed 10 GW of installed photovoltaic capacity with an additional 0.5 GW of concentrated solar power. In the twelve months through October 2013, utility scale solar power generated 8.86 million megawatt-hours, 0.22% of total US electricity. The largest solar power installation in the world is the Solar Energy Generating Systems facility in California, which has a total capacity of 354 megawatts (MW).
The United States conducted much early research in photovoltaics and concentrated solar power. The U.S. is among the top countries in the world in electricity generated by the Sun and several of the world's largest utility-scale installations are located in the desert Southwest. There are plans to build many other large solar plants in the United States. While the U.S. has no national energy policy, many states have set individual renewable energy goals with solar power being included in various proportions. Governor Jerry Brown has signed legislation requiring California's utilities to obtain 33 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources by the end of 2020. A total of 4,324 MW of utility scale solar power plants are under construction and an additional 25,926 MW are under development, with 19,060 MW under construction or development in California.
The use of solar water heating and solar area heating is less common in the U.S. than in some other countries.
A 1993 report by the United States Department of Energy found available domestic solar energy (including biomass) technically accessible regardless of cost amounted to 586,687 Quadrillion BTUs (Quads); 95% of this was biomass. Coal represented the second largest resource, a distant 38,147 Quads. Predictions of how much solar power was economically feasible to collect amounted to 352 quads, compared with 5,266 quads from coal. The assumptions used in the report were based on a predicted 2010 price of a barrel of oil being $38, and multiplied annual renewable resources by 30 for comparison with non-renewable resources. The total annual energy consumption of the United States in 2007 was approximately 100 Quads, less than 0.5% of what is theoretically available from sunlight.
A 2012 report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory described technically available renewable energy resources for each state and estimated that urban utility scale photovoltaics could supply 2,232 TWh/year, rural utility scale PV 280,613 TWh/year, rooftop PV 818 TWh/year, and CSP 116,146 TWh/year, for a total of almost 400,000 TWh/year, 100 times current consumption of 3,856 TWh in 2011. Onshore wind potential is estimated at 32,784 TWh/year, and offshore wind at 16,976 TWh/year. The total available from all renewable resources is estimated at 481,963 TWh/year.
Solar energy deployment increased at a record pace in the United States and throughout the world in 2008, according to industry reports. The Solar Energy Industries Association's "2008 U.S. Solar Industry Year in Review" found that U.S. solar energy capacity increased by 17% in 2007, reaching the total equivalent of 8,775 megawatts (MW). The SEIA report tallies all types of solar energy, and in 2007 the United States installed 342 MW of solar photovoltaic (PV) electric power, 139 thermal megawatts (MWth) of solar water heating, 762 MWth of pool heating, and 21 MWth of solar space heating and cooling.
A 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 eight 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.
According to a study by the Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research, 878 megawatts (MW) of photovoltaic (PV) capacity and 78 MW of concentrating solar power (CSP) were installed in the U.S. in 2010, enough to power roughly 200,000 homes. In addition, more than 65,000 homes and businesses added solar water heating (SWH) or solar pool heating (SPH) systems. This was double the 435 MW installed in 2009 around the U.S.
According to a 2011 survey conducted by independent polling firm Kelton Research, nine out of 10 Americans support the use and development of solar technology. Eight out of 10 respondents indicated that "the federal government should support solar manufacturing in the U.S. and should give federal subsidies for solar energy". According to the Energy Information Administration, in 2010, subsidies to the solar power industry amounted to 8.2% ($968 million) of all federal subsidies for electricity generation.
Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research found that the amount of new solar electric capacity increased in 2012 by 76 percent from 2011, raising the United States’ market share of the world’s installations above 10 percent, up from roughly 5 to 7 percent in the last seven years.
One of the first applications of concentrated solar was the 6 hp solar powered motor made by H.E. Willsie and John Boyle in 1904.
An early solar pioneer of the 19th and 20th century, Frank Shuman, built a demonstration plant that used solar power to pump water using an array of mirrors in a trough to generate steam. Located in Philadelphia, the solar water pump station was capable of pumping 3000 gallons an hour (25 hp) at that latitude. After seven weeks of testing the plant was disassembled and shipped to Egypt for testing as an irrigation plant.
The U.S. pioneered solar tower and trough technologies. A number of different solar thermal technologies are in use in the U.S.
The largest and oldest solar power plant in the world is the 354 MW SEGS thermal power plant, in California. The 64 MW Nevada Solar One uses parabolic trough technology in one of the largest solar plants in the world.
The Martin Next Generation Solar Energy Center is a hybrid 75-megawatt (MW) parabolic trough solar energy plant that is owned by Florida Power & Light Company (FPL). The solar plant is a component of the 3,705 MW Martin County Power Plant, which is currently the single largest fossil fuel burning power plant in the United States. Completed at the end of 2010, it is located in western Martin County, Florida, just north of Indiantown.
The 5 MW Kimberlina Solar Thermal Energy Plant demonstrates a fresnel reflector technology. Sierra SunTower is a 5 MW commercial concentrating solar power tower in Lancaster, California and is the only CSP tower facility operating in North America. The 1.5 MW Maricopa Solar is the first Dish Stirling power plant. The 2 MW Holaniku MicroCSP Solar Thermal Plant in Hawaii is the world's first MicroCSP power plant.
In mid-2010, the U.S. produced more than half of all solar thermal power in the world, although Spain exceeded the U.S. in 2011.
The Ivanpah Solar Power Facility is a 392 megawatt (MW) solar power facility, which is under construction. It will consist of three separate solar thermal power plants in southeastern California. The facility will consist of fields of heliostat mirrors focusing solar energy on boilers located on centralized power towers. The first phase of the Ivanpah facility began construction in late 2010.
The Mojave Solar Project is a 280 MW solar thermal power facility under construction in the Mojave Desert in California, which should be completed in 2014. Abengoa has successfully secured a $1.2 billion loan guarantee from the US government for the project.
As of June 24, 2013, a total of 3,744 MW of solar thermal power plants are under development in the United States.
The Genesis Solar Energy Project is a proposed 250 MW solar thermal power station to be located in Riverside County, California. It will be of parabolic trough design, and the company involved is NextEra Energy Resources.
In 2012, 3,313 Megawatts of photovoltaics were installed, which amounts to a 76% growth over 2011's total installed base of 4,383 MW, which itself was a 73% increase over 2010's installed base of 2,528 MW. Projections indicate that upwards of 5,140 MW total photovoltaics will come online in 2013.
Current trends indicate that a large number of photovoltaic power plants will be built in the south and southwest areas, where there is ample land in the sunny deserts of California, Nevada and Arizona. Large properties are being bought there with the aim of building more utility-scale PV power plants. In addition, many of the projects are on BLM public land.
New manufacturing facilities for solar cells and modules in Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, Oregon, and Texas promise to add enough capacity to produce thousands of megawatts of solar devices per year within the next few years from 2008:
In late September 2008, Sanyo Electric Company, Ltd. announced its decision to build a manufacturing plant for solar ingots and wafers (the building blocks for silicon solar cells) in Salem, Oregon. The plant will begin operating in October 2009 and will reach its full production capacity of 70 megawatts (MW) of solar wafers per year by April 2010.
In early October 2008, First Solar, Inc. broke ground on an expansion of its Perrysburg, Ohio, planned to add enough capacity to produce another 57 MW per year of solar modules at the facility, bringing its total capacity to roughly 192 MW per year. The company expects to complete construction early next year and reach full production by mid-2010. And in mid-October 2008, SolarWorld AG opened a manufacturing plant in Hillsboro, Oregon, that is expected to produce 500 MW of solar cells per year when it reaches full production in 2011.
Rapidly decreasing photovoltaics prices has put on hold General Electric's planned factory in Colorado, and led to the bankruptcy of Konarka Technologies, which had expected to produce 1,000 MW of solar modules per year by 2011, and Solyndra, which defaulted on a $535 million loan guarantee, prompting Republican members of the Energy and Commerce committee to vote to cease accepting new applications to the loan program.
HelioVolt Corporation opened a manufacturing facility in Austin, Texas that will have an initial capacity to produce 20 MW of solar cells per year. Starting with solar "inks" developed at DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory that are deposited with ink jets, HelioVolt employs a proprietary "printing" process to produce solar cells consisting of thin films of copper indium gallium selenide, or CIGS. The technology won an R&D 100 Award in 2008 and it earned an Editor's Choice Award for Most Revolutionary Technology. HelioVolt's "FASST" reactive transfer printing process is 10–100 times faster than other CIGS production processes and can also be combined with vacuum evaporation or ultrasonic spray deposition techniques. At its new Austin manufacturing plant, HelioVolt plans to produce both solar modules and next-generation building-integrated solar products using its FASST process.
In 2012 a 31% tariff on cells made in China is expected to have little effect, as manufacturers such as Trina simply switch to less efficient cells made in Malaysia or Taiwan.
The largest photovoltaic array in the world is the 250 MW (AC) of the still under construction 290 MW (AC) Agua Caliente Solar Project in Yuma County, Arizona. The project is expected to be completed in 2014.
The Copper Mountain Solar Facility is a 48 megawatt (MW) solar photovoltaic (PV) power plant in Boulder City, Nevada. Sempra Generation constructed the plant in 2010. At its construction peak more than 350 workers were installing the 775,000 First Solar panels on the 380-acre (1.5 km2) site.
The 47.7 megawatt Avenal Solar Facility is the largest photovoltaic (PV) solar project in California. It is located in Kings County, California, north of Los Angeles. Commercial operation began in August 2011. Electricity generated by the power plant is being sold to Pacific Gas and Electric Company under a 20-year power purchase agreement.
The 37 MW Long Island Solar Farm (LISF) is the largest photovoltaic array in the eastern U.S. It earned the Best Photovoltaic Project of Year Award from the New York Solar Energy Industries Association. The LISF is made up of 164,312 solar panels, which provide enough electricity for roughly 4,500 households. Additionally, the project will cause the abatement of more than 30,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year.
The DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center is a photovoltaic solar power facility in Arcadia, DeSoto County, Florida owned by Florida Power & Light (FPL). President Barack Obama attended the plant's commissioning on October 27, 2009. It has a nameplate capacity of 25 megawatts (MW) DC and produces an estimated 42,000 megawatt-hours (MW·h) of electricity per year.
The Davidson County Solar Farm is a 17.2 megawatt solar power station located in the heart of North Carolina, near the community of Linwood. SunEdison built the array of photovoltaic panels, and Duke Energy buys all the output from the solar farm.
The Nellis Solar Power Plant is located within Nellis Air Force Base in Clark County, Nevada, on the northeast side of Las Vegas. The Nellis solar energy system will generate in excess of 25 million kilowatt-hours (kW·h) of electricity annually and supply more than 25 percent of the power used at the base. The system was inaugurated in a ceremony on December 17, 2007, with Nevada Governor Jim Gibbons activating full operation of the 14 megawatt (MW) array.
A total of 2,842 MW are operating. Other operational PV power plants include:
As of June 24, 2013, a total of 3,494 MW of utility scale photovoltaic power plants are under construction in the United States.
The Agua Caliente Solar Project is a 290 megawatt (AC) photovoltaic solar generating facility being built in Yuma County, Arizona. 250 MW (AC) is operational, making it the largest operating photovoltaic power plant in the world.
The 230 MW (AC) Antelope Valley Solar Ranch is a First Solar photovoltaic project which is under construction in the Antelope Valley area of the Western Mojave Desert, and due to be completed in 2013.
The Mesquite Solar project is a 700 MW photovoltaic solar power plant being built in Arlington, Maricopa County, Arizona, owned by Sempra Generation. Phase 1 has a nameplate capacity of 150 megawatts, and was completed in January 2013.
The 300 MW Sonoran Solar Project in Arizona, is a photovoltaic solar power plant that is being planned by a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar granted approval for the project in December 2011.
The Centinela Solar Energy Project is an approved 275 megawatt solar power plant to be located on 2,067 acres of previously disturbed private land near El Centro, California. The project would support at least 367 jobs, generate more than $30 million in tax revenue over the life of the project, and deliver enough electricity to power about 82,500 homes. Creative financing has increased the boom in home solar installation into 2012.
SolarStrong is SolarCity's five-year plan to build more than $1 billion in solar photovoltaic projects for privatized military housing communities across the United States. SolarCity plans to work with the country's leading privatized military housing developers to install, own and operate rooftop solar installations and provide solar electricity at a lower cost than utility power. SolarStrong is ultimately expected to create up to 300 megawatts of solar generation capacity that could provide power to as many as 120,000 military housing units, making it the largest residential photovoltaic project in American history. In November 2011, SolarCity and Bank of America Merrill Lynch announced that they have agreed to terms on financing for SolarStrong.
In 2012, the Bureau of Land Management is giving priority status to 9 PV project proposals. The 750 MW McCoy Solar Project has been proposed by NextEra. The 100 MW Desert Harvest project has been proposed by enXco. The 664 Calico Solar Project has been redesigned by K Power. The 350 MW Silver State South and 350 MW Moapa project have been proposed. The 600 MW Mount Signal Solar Farm #1 has also been proposed.
In addition, 17 "Solar Energy Zones" were identified for priority development in April 2012. A total of 97,921,069 acres (39,627,251 ha; 153,002 sq mi) of BLM land is currently available for solar projects in Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah, enough for at least 10,000,000 MW.
Total: 42,554 MW - 76,577 MW, depending on the technology used
A complete list of incentives is maintained at the Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy (DSIRE) (see external link).
Most are 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, while California leads in total number of homes which have solar panels installed. Many were installed because of the million solar roof initiative.
The federal tax credit for solar was extended for eight years as part of the financial bail out bill, H.R. 1424, until the end of 2016. It was estimated this will create 440,000 jobs, 28 gigawatts of solar power, and lead to a $300 billion market for solar panels. This estimate did not take into account the removal of the $2,000 cap on residential tax credits at the end of 2008.
The United States Department of Energy (DOE) announced on September 29, 2008 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 is 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 were to receive up to $3 million in funding, with the exception of Solasta and Spire Semiconductor, which would 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 U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technology Program (SETP) will achieve the goals of the SAI through partnerships and strategic alliances by focusing primarily on four areas:
The Solar America Showcases activity is part of the Solar America Initiative (SAI), and preference is given to large-scale, highly visible, highly replicable installations that involve cutting-edge solar technologies or novel applications of solar.
The SunShot Initiative was announced by the Department of Energy and aims to reduce the cost of solar power by 75% from 2010 to 2020. The name is based on "moon shot", Kennedy's target of reaching the moon within the decade.
The Energy Department on December 7 announced a $29 million investment in four projects that will help advance affordable, reliable clean energy for U.S. families and businesses. The $29 million would be separated into two investments:
Fraunhofer USA’s Center for Sustainable Energy Systems in Cambridge, Massachusetts, will develop PV technologies that allow homeowners to easily select the right solar system for their house and install, wire and connect to the grid.
North Carolina State University will lead a project to create standard PV components and system designs that can adapt simply to any residential roof and can be installed and connected to the grid quickly and efficiently.
IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Armonk, New York, will lead a new project based on the Watson computer system that uses big data processing and self-adjusting algorithms to integrate different prediction models and learning technologies.
These projects are working with the Energy Department and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association to improve the accuracy of solar forecasts and share the results of this work with industry and academia.
Experience has demonstrated that a feed-in tariff is both the least expensive and the most effective means of developing solar power. Investors need certainty, which they receive from a feed-in tariff. California enacted a feed-in tariff which began on February 14, 2008. Washington state has a feed-in tariff of 15 ¢/kWh which increases to 54 ¢/kWh if components are manufactured in the state. Hawaii, Michigan, and Vermont also have feed in tariffs.
In recent years, states that have passed Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) or Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) laws have relied on the use of Solar renewable energy certificates (SRECs) to meet state requirements. This is done by adding a specific solar carve-out to the state Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). The first SREC program was implemented in 2005 by the state of New Jersey and has since expanded to several other states, including Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.
An SREC program is an alternative to the feed-in tariff model popular in Europe. The key difference between the two models is the market-based mechanism that drives the value of the SRECs, and therefore the value of the subsidy for solar. In a feed-in tariff model, the government sets the value for the electricity produced by a solar facility. If the level is higher, more solar power is built and the program is more costly. If the feed-in tariff is set lower, less solar power is built and the program is ineffective. The problem with SRECs is a lack of certainty for investors. A feed-in tariff provides a known return on investment, while an SREC program provides a possible return on investment.
In 2006 investors began offering free solar panel installation in return for a 25 year contract, or Power Purchase Agreement, to purchase electricity at a fixed price, normally set at or below current electric rates. By 2009 over 90% of commercial photovoltaics installed in the United States were installed using a power purchase agreement. Approximately 90% of the photovoltaics installed in the United States is in states that specifically address power purchase agreements.
In March 2013, Lancaster California became the first U.S. city to mandate the inclusion of solar panels on new homes, requiring that "every new housing development must average 1 kilowatt per house."
An innovative financing arrangement pioneered in Berkeley, California, and Palm Springs, lends money to a homeowner for a solar system, to be repaid via an additional tax assessment on the property for 20 years. This allows installation of the solar system at "relatively little up-front cost to the property owner." Now known as PACE, for Property Assessed Clean Energy, it is available in 28 states. Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae have objected to the repayment of solar loans being senior to mortgage loans, and some states have relegated PACE loans to junior loans. HR 2599 was introduced to prevent interference with the PACE program by other lenders. The principle feature of the program is that the balance of the loan is transferred to the new owners in the event the property is sold, and the loan is paid for entirely through electric bill savings. Unlike a mortgage loan, no funds are transferred when the property is sold - only the repayment obligation is transferred.
PACE programs are currently operating in eight states, California, Colorado, Florida, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, New York, and Wisconsin, and are on hold in many others, pending resolution of the Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae objection.
In the United States, 930 MW of PV was installed in the 3rd quarter and 2440 MW of PV installations were completed in the first three quarters of 2013. Abengoa's 280 MWac of CSP project was brought online in the 3rd quarter bringing the total to 286 MWac for the year and 732 MWac total. A total of 4.3 GW of PV and over 800 MW of CSP capacity are expected to come on-line in 2013.
|US Grid-Connected CSP Capacity (MW)|
|US Grid-Connected CSP Capacity (MW)|
|US Photovoltaics Capacity (MWp)|
|US Photovoltaics Capacity (MWp)|
|US Grid Connected Photovoltaics Capacity (MWp)|
|U.S. Solar Generation (GWh, Million kWh)|
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