There is now enough installed solar energy capacity in the U.S. to power 13.5 million homes, and this amount is expected to double in the next five years. The solar energy industry is part of a very dynamic market. Many factors — including government policies, fossil fuel costs, solar energy technology advances, commodity prices, and even public awareness of the climate crisis — impact solar energy deployment across the globe.
What’s in store for the year ahead? Let’s explore some trends in solar energy to better understand what is on tap for 2020.
Solar Battery Prices Are Falling
Solar energy is an intermittent energy source. This means that solar panels produce power when the sun is shining and not when it isn’t. Energy storage allows the solar system to supply power when the sun has set or in cloudy weather, expanding the capabilities of solar energy systems.
There are two main types of solar batteries: lead-acid batteries (like you have in your car) and lithium-ion batteries. The latter is far more advanced, longer-lasting, and requires less maintenance. Not surprising, lithium-ion batteries have a higher upfront cost, but the price has been decreasing significantly in recent years. The cost of lithium-ion battery storage fell 35 percent from the first half of 2018 to now (December 2019) and 76 percent since 2012. This downward price trend is good news for renewable solar energy in 2020 — and it’s likely to continue.
Natural gas plants are often used to meet peak energy loads because they can more easily be turned on and off than coal or nuclear power plants. Lower costs make it easier for intermittent renewable energy sources — such as wind and solar — to be cost-competitive with dispatchable fossil-fired power plants. Price decreases in utility-scale battery banks now make solar plus energy storage competitive in many areas on price alone. Battery banks can make it unnecessary to fire up power plants during times of peak demand, reducing fossil fuel consumption. The greater the capabilities of solar, the less attractive and financially viable these peaker power plants become.
On the residential side, more homeowners are relying on solar systems with battery storage for emergency power during grid outages than ever before. This is an especially attractive option in areas prone to extended power outages due to natural disasters or with inadequate utility infrastructure, like Puerto Rico.
Image Credit: Sundog Solar
By Sarah Lozanova
The solar energy industry is booming across the United States and beyond. As jobs in the coal industry slump, careers in solar energy are taking off. In the U.S., 855,000 people were employed in the renewable energy industry either directly or indirectly in 2018. Over 240,000 of these people work in the solar energy industry, and this number is growing quickly.
The U.S. trails China and Japan in solar energy jobs, with China employing 2.2 million or 61 percent of the global total. Although solar jobs exist across the U.S., California, Florida, Massachusetts, New York, and Texas lead the way in solar industry jobs. To learn about the breakdown of solar jobs by location and sector, visit the Solar Job Census map. Reports for individual states highlight how many jobs exist in installation, manufacturing, distribution, and operations and maintenance. In most states, installation jobs lead the sector in total jobs.
If you are interested in entering the solar energy field, there are a variety of different careers available. Like any other industry, the solar energy industry needs dedicated professionals to help it thrive. Let’s look at some of the career options in solar energy.
Solar System Installer
Solar installers put solar panels on the roof and connect them to the electric panel. This job requires some training, which you can often get on the job, and general construction and electrical experience are helpful. Installation classes and training programs are available through solar manufacturers, solar organizations, or programs at community colleges and trade schools. Obtaining NABCEP certification could also help your career advancement as it the most recognized certification in the solar energy industry.
Image Credit: Sundog Solar
By Sarah Lozanova
Despite serving a valuable purpose to us all, tech companies have been criticized for years for their exorbitant energy consumption. Data centers are the backbone of the internet and keeping all that information just a click away requires a lot of electricity.
A transition to renewable sources is underway, which cloud users can encourage by choosing their online service providers that source clean energy.
The ‘Dirty Cloud’
Data centers use up to 3 percent of all U.S. electricity and the information technology sector is responsible for 7 percent of global electricity consumption. The term “dirty cloud” was even coined to refer to the coal and other high-emissions fuel sources that power cloud computing. Global internet traffic has tripled in the last four years and it is anticipated to triple again by 2022, according to the International Energy Association.
The IT sector isn’t keeping up with its rapid growth,” says Gary Cook, the senior corporate campaigner on the Climate & Energy for Greenpeace. “More companies are making renewable energy commitments but energy demand growth by the industry is outstripping their renewable energy growth. This is an urgent issue to address the use of fossil fuels given the climate crisis.”
Since 2009, Greenpeace has been putting pressure on some of the more polluting tech companies while praising greener ones. When examining the energy footprint of tech companies, some clearly lead the way in the corporate use of renewable energy deployment, energy transparency, advocacy, and energy efficiency innovations.
By Sarah Lozanova
Most of us think of solar energy as consisting of photovoltaic solar panels, which make up 95 percent of the solar energy market. Solar towers, however, are proving to be a promising technology for commercial-scale installations as well.
Construction is now underway on the Ashalim Thermal Solar Power Station, where a vacant stretch of the Negev desert in Israel will be home to a 787-foot solar tower.
This is a big step in achieving Israel’s goal to source 10 percent of its energy from renewables by 2020. The solar tower will produce enough electricity to power 121,000 Israeli homes, or meet 1 percent of Israel’s total electricity needs. Although the project is privately funded, the Israeli government has agreed to buy the power at above-market prices. Construction is expected to conclude late next year.
By Sarah Lozanova
Inspired by the concept of making a sustainable lifestyle easier, GreenPod creates low-maintenance modular homes with healthy interiors.
Factory-built kits can be transported to a building site and easily assembled. Using state-of-the-art technology and materials, these homes have a small footprint and conserve both water and energy. The homes, including tree houses and floating homes, are customized to the site, have passive solar features and minimize site disturbance.
The walls, floor and roof of the homes use SIPs (Structurally Insulated Panels), with a rain shield on the exterior. “The homes are precut when they come out of the factory, so they can go up in a day or two on the site,” says Ann Raab, GreenPod’s founder. “SIPs are the best bang for your buck. Although they are slightly more expensive than a stick built home, SIPS have a short 2.7-year payback. They are stronger and straighter than wood, with no job waste [because the SIPs are precut]. Everything about SIPs delivers what we are trying to create.”
Raab has a vision to simplify green building, while making sustainable living affordable for the mainstream. GreenPod homes are customized to fit a variety of budgets, with optional features including: locally-crated furniture containing organic textiles, reclaimed building materials, solar panels and a biofilter refrigerator.
Freelance clean energy writer