What will further accelerate the adoption of solar?

Solar power has grown rapidly for over a decade. In 2010, the U.S. installed a combined 825 megawatts of residential, commercial, and utility-scale solar panels. The year after that, total installations doubled, and two years after that, they doubled again. The total installed solar capacity nearly doubled again between 2015 and 2016, when over 14,000 megawatts of solar was installed and solar power became the number one source of new energy capacity in the country.

Solar has grown so fast in the U.S. that the Bureau of Labor Statistics has found that solar installer is projected to be the fastest-growing job in the country through 2026.

Worldwide, the situation is much the same. Led by China and the U.S., solar installations in 2016 grew by 50 percent compared to the year before, and solar power accounted for two-thirds of all new energy sources added to the world’s grids.

Despite these dramatic steps toward a cleaner, more sustainable world, solar has a long way to go. In the U.S., solar still accounts for only about one percent of all utility-scale energy consumption. Globally, solar penetration is just as low. But understanding how solar power achieved such rapid and widespread adoption over the past few decades will illuminate how the industry and renewable energy advocates can continue to accelerate the adoption of solar energy in the future.

Economic forces are the primary reason behind the increased adoption of solar power. As solar has become more affordable, both utility-scale and rooftop installations have increased.

There are a variety of reasons why the cost of solar has dropped so precipitously over the past few decades. Some of these reasons are due to industry advances, and others are due to public policies.

On the industry side, improvements in solar cell technology, manufacturing techniques, and supply chain streamlining have conspired to steadily reduce the cost of solar panels. In 1977, solar cells cost over $76 per watt. The following year, they dropped to about $67 per watt, and the year after that, they dropped to just $40 per watt. By 2013, the price of solar cells was more than 100 times lower than it was in 1977.

The declining cost of solar cells and panels began to make them more competitive against traditional forms of energy generation. In 1985, for instance, solar energy cost about $6.50 per watt. By 1995, solar energy cost just $5 per watt, and by 2000, the price had dropped below $3 per watt. Today, the cost of solar in many places including 20 U.S. states and over 30 countries is at or below the cost of energy from fossil fuels (a phenomenon known as grid parity). In most places, solar just barely edges out traditional forms of energy production, but in some cases, the cost of solar is far below the cost of energy from traditional sources. In Chile, for instance, solar electricity costs 58 percent less than the cost of energy from a new natural gas plant.

But costs haven’t fallen simply due to better manufacturing techniques. Other advances have occurred on the installation side. Today, a typical installation takes four hours, but 10 years ago, that same installation took about 16 hours. By reducing installation times, installers can service more customers and save money on labor costs. Along with costs associated with installation labor, other “soft costs” (including marketing, customer acquisition, regulatory compliance, and other non-equipment costs) will need to come down if solar is to continue becoming more affordable.

Apart from advances in solar technology, manufacturing, and industry practices, a suite of public policies have made solar a strong competitor in the energy market.

The expansion of free trade agreements is one such set of policies. Installers in the developed world including the U.S. have long been able to offer affordable panel installations in part because they purchase panels from China and other Asian nations that produce solar panels cheaply. Free trade has also allowed many panel makers to locate their facilities abroad in order to reduce manufacturing costs. Kyocera Solar, for instance, is headquartered in Japan but manufactures its panels in Mexico and the U.S. And SunPower is based in the U.S. but has manufacturing facilities in China, the Philippines, and Mexico.

Critics argue that free trade exploits indigenous workers abroad, harms the environment, and devastates the domestic manufacturing sector in the U.S. (though this isn’t true for the solar manufacturing sector, which grew 26 percent in 2016).

But limiting free trade will dramatically slow the growth of solar energy. After the Trump administration’s decision last month to impose tariffs of up to 30 percent on imported solar cells and panels, the Solar Energy Industries Association, which represents over 1,000 companies, found that the tariffs will lead to U.S. job losses of 23,000 in 2018 alone. Bill Vietas, president of RBI Solar in Cincinnati, said the tariffs “will increase the cost of solar and depress demand, which will reduce the orders we’re getting and cost manufacturing workers their jobs.” And an analysis from GTM Research found that the tariffs will lead to an 11 percent decline in installations through 2022.

Governments also play an important role by providing financial incentives that promote the adoption of solar energy. In the U.S., for instance, the federal government has offered a renewable energy investment tax credit (ITC) since 2006. Homeowners who install solar energy systems can claim a credit on their taxes equal to 30 percent of the system’s cost. Purchasing a $20,000 solar system, for instance, would allow the homeowner to essentially discount that price by $6,000. According to the SEIA, “The ITC has proven to be one of the most important federal policy mechanisms to incentivize the deployment of both rooftop and utility-scale solar energy in the United States.” The organization also notes that the ITC “provides market certainty for companies to develop long-term investments that drive competition and technological innovation” which, in turn, lead to lower costs and higher installation rates.

When those incentives decline or go away completely, so too do solar installations. In the U.K., for instance, the number of solar installations in 2016 fell by nearly 50 percent after the government reduced financial incentives for homeowners by 65 percent and slashed subsidies for utility-scale solar investment.

Along with financial incentives for businesses and citizens, government funding for research and development in solar technology is also important for lowering costs. According to a 2017 report from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, government investment in solar research and development is crucial because “returns from investment in these types of projects are long term and uncertain, and therefore unlikely to produce a commercial return within a period attractive to non‐government investment sources.” In other words, companies aren’t interested in risking significant portions of their budgets on better solar cells, panels, and related technologies because it’s possible that the research won’t yield anything profitable. But governments aren’t constrained by the need to show quarterly earnings, and can therefore invest in long-term research projects. (This is true not only of the solar industry but for technological research and development in general the internet, for instance, was a government-funded innovation.)

In the U.S., one of the largest government-funded research efforts is the National Center for Photovoltaics (NCPV), a division of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory funded by the Department of Energy. The NCPV collaborates with universities and private companies to develop better solar cells and products. One of its R&D projects reportedlyresulted in a more than 50% reduction in manufacturing costs and a substantial return on investment for both the U.S. government and the industries involved. A number of companies participating in the project were able to make technological advances that helped them attract millions of dollars in private investment capital.”

A related effort, the Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative, supports R&D programs and encourages homeowners to go solar through education and outreach. Last year, the initiative met its goal of making utility-scale solar competitive with traditional forms of energy production three years ahead of schedule. SunShot continues to work toward lowering the cost of commercial and residential-scale solar installations.

As long as the cost of solar continues to decline below the cost of energy from fossil fuels, solar installations will continue to grow. Individuals can facilitate this growth by voting for politicians who support solar tax credits, investments in solar research, and related policies. And a coalition of industry and environmental groups can further accelerate the adoption of solar by exerting additional pressure on policy makers to make solar even more accessible and affordable.

Tidal Energy: All You Need to Know

Tidal Energy: All You Need to Know

Tidal energy is one of the most recent forms of generating sustainable energy and is a way in which power is being generated for thousands of homes in the UK.

Marine currents (or waves) are naturally occurring in our oceans and considering that we live on what is essentially a huge island, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be using tidal energy.

But how is the power generated and how can your home benefit from using this kind of electricity?

We share everything you need to know about tidal power:

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apps for home energy usage

7 Great iPhone Apps to Help You Manage Your Home Energy Usage

Have you always been curious about your home energy usage, but have never been able to work out exactly how much you’re wasting?

Thankfully there are a number of versatile apps available on the iPhone that will provide you with precise and informative readings of all your households’ energy outgoings and will give you the opportunity to save more money than ever before on your energy costs!

Here are some of our favourite iPhone apps for managing usage:

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How do wind turbines work?

How do Wind Turbines Work?

The large wind turbines that you may see when you look out into to the countryside aren’t just there to cause an eyesore – they’re responsible for making approximately 44.2% of the UK’s total power capacity installations.

Wind energy is renewable and good for the environment, meaning that the resource in which electricity is generated will never run out – unlike when we’re burning fossil fuels.

Most modern wind turbines have three blades and turn anti-clockwise. Typically, they’re computer controlled in order to keep the turbine facing the way in which the wind is being directed.

We share how wind turbines actually work and why they are a great source of energy for your home:

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How to Avoid Carbon Monoxide Poisoning at Home

How to Avoid Carbon Monoxide Poisoning at Home

Carbon monoxide, also known simply as CO, is a toxic gas and can be harmful with devastating effects; especially when inhaled by young children.

When one of the most dangerous gases than can be produced leak within a home environment, it’s odourless, colourless and invisible properties can spark disaster and emergency.

Here’s all you need to know about CO and how to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning in the home:

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The Reasons For Having Solar Panels Installed On Your Home

Given the costs associated with installing solar panels as well as the maintenance costs, many homeowners are still dubious as to whether investing in renewable energy is a viable investment in the long term.

Of course, we have heard the numerous reasons as to why people should switch from fossil fuel-based power to green energy, as it helps preserve the remaining natural resources left in the world. However, as homeowners, what are the benefits of using solar panels?

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Is Solar Energy A Good Investment For My Business?

Is Solar Energy a Good Investment For My Business?

It’ll come as no surprise that businesses have been using solar energy for years and although we all know of the environmental benefits it can provide your commercial property with, there are many financial positives that factor into using solar energy as a business investment.

The use of solar panels and PV energy to produce electricity offers you the chance to cut your electricity bills whilst getting peace of mind that you’re not contributing to the huge volume of greenhouse gases that are damaging our planet.

We share how investing in solar panels and PV can be a great investment for your business, along with what it takes for your business to see a decent financial return:

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What is biomass energy and biomass fuels

Everything You Need to Know About Biomass Energy

Biomass energy is a method in which you can burn organic materials to produce power. This power can be converted into gas or electricity – the type of power that almost every homeowner in the UK depends on.

The way in which biomass energy is created can be a complicated and lengthy process, but there are many different biomass plants all over the country that are supplying energy to homes and businesses.

We share everything you need to know about biomass energy and how it can impact your energy consumption:

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How do Solar Panels Work?

How do Solar Panels Work?

We use electricity almost constantly throughout the day, which is why it is important for us to find renewable sources.

Burning fossil fuels in order to produce electricity is an unsustainable and unproductive method; not to mention the many environmental issues that can be damaging to the entire planet when greenhouse gases are emitted.

Solar panels are a great way to provide a constant, reliable stream of energy – the best thing about them? They’re free after they have been installed (and you can even make money from them!). But what exactly are they?

We share the secret on how solar panels work:

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How to read energy rating levels

How to Read Energy Rating Labels

A common sight in appliance stores and showrooms all over the country, there’s no denying than an energy rating label plays an important role when running an energy efficient home.

Choosing efficient appliances can not only help you to reduce emissions from greenhouse gases but also enables you to enjoy cheaper energy bills.

Fridges, freezers, washing machine and dishwashers are some of the biggest energy-drainers in your home and it’s beneficial for them to be as energy efficient as possible, but how do you read the labels?

We share our run-down on how to read energy rating labels and what they actually mean:

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Top 7 Reasons Why Home Renovations Are in Such High Demand

Today, more than ever before, builders are in high demand because of the sheer number of home renovations in the UK. There was a time when new builds kept construction companies too busy to deal with renovations, but with the current trend, it is all they can do to handle the requests pouring in from homeowners for anything from remodelling jobs to total renovations. Whether you are a builder or a homeowner looking to have your home renovated, it is interesting to note the top 7 reasons why home renovations are in such high demand.

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What You Probably Never Knew about Carbon Reserves – Now You Wish You Didn’t

Households in the UK and elsewhere around the world are being asked by their respective governments to reduce carbon emissions but those same governments continue to back the top 200 companies that hold more carbon reserves than can ever be safely burned. According to a report by the BBC quoting University College London academics, it would be virtually impossible to meet goals in lowering carbon emissions if that oil, coal and gas were burned – EVER!

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Scottish Wind Farm Scandal – Why Are They Getting Paid Not to Produce?

The latest controversy in the energy sector has a great number of English energy customers in and uproar over the amount of money being paid to Scottish wind farms for energy they are not producing. Not only are they getting paid for energy they are not producing but it is widely held that the Scottish government is asking them to withhold producing electricity, knowing that the money is coming directly from English consumers.

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