How Fast is The Solar Energy Industry Growing in the USA?

It’s no secret that the solar energy industry is growing exponentially in the U.S. 

COVID-19 dealt a deadly blow to business in 2020. But despite the pandemic, our U.S. solar market increased by 43% over 2019, making 2020 a record-setting year. Better still, the costs of solar photovoltaic (P.V.) systems continue to drop, making solar energy resources more affordable for everyone in the U.S. 

I’m sure you can see that this is one industry that’s looking very bright! 

But How Fast Is Solar Growing In the USA?

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) says business is booming and not about to stop anytime soon. Prices have fallen by more than 70% in the past decade leading to unprecedented growth in the industry. In 2020, solar’s share of new electric capacity that was added to the grid was 43%, which is a record. 

We’ve come a heck of a long way since 2010, when the total share of electricity generated in the U.S. was only 0.1% to more than 3% in 2020. I’m not sure what the percentage will be in 10 years’ time, but the SEIA reports that solar installations will likely double by 2023 and quadruple by 2030 from current levels. 

SEIA Solar Market Insight

In its most recent Solar Market Insight Report 2020 Year in Review, Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables and the SEIA produced key figures that show major trends and growth in the U.S. solar market. 

With a prediction that the 2020 “operating solar fleet” is expected to quadruple from nearly 100 to more than 400 GWdc of installed capacity by 2030, they say it’s been a record-setting year – “and it won’t be the last.”  

A graph from SEIA showing New U.S. Electricity Generating Capacity, showing a bar graph from 2010 to 2020 with solar, natural gas, coal, wind, and other energy sources throughout the country. The bars in yellow show an upward trend, indicating the solar energy industry's rapid growth.
Courtesy of SEIA, Wood Mackenzie, and sourced: U.S. Solar Market Insight 2020 Year in Review

The report also predicts that the share of homes with solar installations will more than treble from 4% in 2020 to 13.4% in 2030. 

Released mid-March 2021, the report reveals that:

  • The solar market installed a record 19.2 GWdc of solar capacity in 2020, which was an increase of 43% from 2019.
  • Solar ranked first in all generating technologies for the second year running.
  • Solar took the largest share of new generating capacity added in 2020 – 43%. 
  • In the fourth quarter of 2020, the solar market set a record with more than 8 GWdc of solar P.V., up 32% on the 2019 figure.
  • Although residential installations increased 11% from 2019, reaching a record 3.1 GW, this was lower than the 2019 annual growth rate of 18%, probably because of the pandemic. 
  • There was also an increase in geographic diversity, with 27 states adding more than 100 MWdc each.

The Solar Timeline in the USA

Solar technology isn’t new. History tells us that the first solar collector was used in the 1830s to cook food. By 1839, a French scientist had discovered the photovoltaic effect that conducted electricity when two metal electrodes were exposed to light. And the progressive timeline we’ve seen since then is mind-boggling, particularly since the turn of the 20th century.

There are now 35 utility-scale solar energy plants in the USA, whereas 10 years ago there wasn’t even one. That said, the power plants comprise a small percentage of companies in the solar industry sector. The rest of the industry is vast and varied, from manufacturers, installers, operations and maintenance firms, marketers, to more specific market segments including solar power systems and solar water heating. 

But the industry as a whole has also been up and down over the decades, largely due to changing state and local solar policies. For instance, way back in 1973, President Jimmy Carter had a solar array installed on the White House roof to produce hot water. But the Reagan administration removed them after eliminating research funding and tax breaks for solar energy in 1986. 

President Trump withdrew from the Paris Agreement in 2017, pledging to protect the fossil fuel industry. 

President Biden has renewed the U.S. commitment to the Paris Agreement and in late April 2021 unveiled plans to cut carbon emissions by 50% by 2030. The announcement resulted in solar stocks soaring, which isn’t surprising! 

Even so, not all U.S. states have responded the same way to the solar challenge. According to the SEIA report, California is still the solar leader, followed by Texas. I’m happy to say that Florida, home of our first net-zero home renovation, currently ranks third in terms of P.V. solar installations in 2020. 

The Californian Go Solar Campaign

Way back in 2004, when Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor of the state, he had a goal of 1 million solar roofs by 2018. This led to the incredibly successful $3.3 billion Go Solar California campaign and a solar incentive program. 

From the very start, the Go Solar campaign was committed to the conviction that solar was generally proven, reliable technology that would pay for itself while helping to reduce global warming. 

In 2020, California’s Energy Commission launched the New Solar Homes Partnership (NSHP) program that supports solar energy system installations on rooftops throughout the state. The energy Commission also lists equipment that meets established national performance and safety standards. 

A picture of the California New Solar Homes Partnership Program homepage, showing an apartment building with lots of solar panels use as carports.
California New Solar Homes Partnership Program

With the highest electricity rates in the U.S. and these strong state incentives, it’s not difficult to understand consumer buy-in. 

California is also the first U.S. state to mandate that all new single-family and multi-family homes up to three stories high must incorporate solar panels. The legislation, introduced in 2020, requires about 4 kilowatts of solar capacity for a 2,000 square foot home. 

Top States for Annual Solar Additions in 2020

In addition to California, Texas, and Florida, many other states are ranking up their support for solar. Even though it is still primarily those in hotter states that are increasing volumes, there is increasing evidence of the effectiveness of solar in cold climates, as you will see in this article I posted recently.  

According to Berkeley Lab, by 2015, close to 600,000 mostly residential properties had P.V. systems, about 200,000 of which were installed in 2014. About 50% were in California, though they identified robust markets in Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, and New York as well. 

In 2018, a California-based company, Modernize, named the top U.S. states for solar installations: California, North Carolina, Arizona, Nevada, Texas, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Florida, and New York. 

The Wood Mackenzie and SEIA report released in May 2019, said California accounted for 51% of the first million solar installations and 43% for the second million. 

They also named several fast-growing and/or emerging solar states. These include:

  • South Carolina, which had 1,160 installations in 2016 increasing to 18,000 in 2019, and is expected to add 22,000 more before 2024.
  • Texas, Utah, Florida, Maryland, and Rhode Island which together have grown from 50,000 installations to more than 200,000.
  • Illinois, which is predicted to increase its installations from close to 4,000 to 100,000 by 2024.

Other figures released by Wood Mackenzie and the SEIA in the March 2021 report show the number of installations for all states for 2018, 2019, and 2020. Our table, based on their data, shows the top 10. 

As I said, California still tops the list, but Florida has moved up to number three! And you will see that California, Texas, and Florida are all streaks ahead of the other states, even those identified by Berkeley Lab in 2015. 

STATE201820192020
California3,2363,1033,904
Texas1,0101,4123,425
Florida8651,3662,822
Virginia1421321,406
North Carolina935965785
South Carolina151516617
New York441473544
Arizona343916503
Utah55122427
New Jersey380451387
Top ten state solar PV installation rankings by Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewals and SEIA.

Conclusion

There has been an enormous growth of solar in the USA in the past decade. Admittedly, the percentage rates of the share of electricity generated are still very low, with only about 4% of homes in the country boasting solar installations. But this is changing rapidly.

In the last quarter of 2020 alone, figures rocketed by 32%. The increase in solar installations nationwide was 43% from 2019. SEIA predictions are that capacity will quadruple over the next decade to 2030. 

There is also strong evidence that an increasing number of U.S. states are adding solar capacity. When (rather than if) more states follow the lead of California, Texas, and Florida, the speed of growth will be even greater. 

Without a doubt, the growth of the solar industry is really picking up steam and there appears to be no turning back from here, given the lower cost and mass adoption rate.

Erin Shine

Erin Shine

Founder | Attainable Home

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