The United States is sunnier than you think. Solar power developers added a record 7.3 gigawatts (GW) of capacity in 2015, up 17% from 2014 and exceeding natural gas installations for the first time.
The gains show how fast demand is growing for clean energy sources, as the U.S. is working to contain greenhouse gas emissions amid falling oil prices that make solar energy more competitive with gas.
The historic figures were announced on Monday by GTM Research and the Washington-based Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). (Source: “US Solar Market Sets New Record, Installing 7.3 GW of Solar PV in 2015,” GreenTechMedia, February 22, 2016.)
Out of all new electric-generating capacity in 2015, 29.5% were met by solar power, ahead of natural gas capacity additions.
SEIA’s CEO, Rhone Resch, described 2015 as a “monumental year” for the U.S. solar industry, adding that the next few years would see, “solar continue to reach unprecedented heights.” (Source: Ibid.)
Residential installations climbed 66%, the fastest-growing segment, and accounted for 29% of all photovoltaic (PV) systems, according to the report. California, North Carolina, and Nevada were again the top three solar states. (Source: “U.S. Solar Surged 17% in 2015 Led by Demand for Rooftop Power,” Bloomberg, February 22, 2016.)
“The solar industry really got a lease on life when the tax credits were extended,” Gaurav S. Iyer, a research analyst at Lombardi Financial, wrote in an e-mail. “This industry could produce enormous returns in the next few years.”
Total U.S. solar installations now surpass 25 GW, up from just two gigawatts five years ago, and equal to about one quarter of the nation’s nuclear fleet.
Iyer noted that the solar industry now employs more Americans than the coal industry, which he said is amazing.
“We’re seeing unprecedented growth in this sector and it’s still in its early stages,” he said.
SolarCity Corp (NASDAQ:SCTY), the largest installer of rooftop panels, rose as much as 5.1% to $19.78 in New York on Monday; SunEdison Inc (NYSE:SUNE) gained as much as five percent, hitting $1.50; and TerraForm Power Inc (NASDAQ:TERP) increased as much as 7.2% to hit $8.67.
Investors are eyeing the release of the “U.S. Solar Market Insight” report that is due to be released on March 9.