NEW YORK CITY: Solar power, only a minuscule part of the energy mix in the United States, is getting a boost from cheap panels, growing acceptance by large companies, and chances for homeowners to rent solar systems.
Analysts expect a phenomenal growth for renewable solar power over the next two decades, after huge gains in the past two years: 60 percent growth in 2012; and 30 percent on top of that this year.
Heavily reliant on oil, natural gas, coal and nuclear energy, the United States only gets 12 percent of its power from renewables, of which solar is the smallest part, less than 1 percent.
But the sector is expanding faster than any. There’s no question, said Charles Ebinger of the Brookings Institution, that solar energy “will continue to grow quite dramatically.”
The US Energy Information Administration predicts that photovoltaics—the semiconductor technology that converts sunlight into electricity—will grow 11.6 percent a year through 2040.
On top of that, it also predicts 3.6 percent annual growth for solar thermal energy, which uses vapor from water heated by the sun to drive turbines. By comparison, wind power is expected to grow at 2 percent a year and geothermal power at 4 percent a year.
Ebinger attributes solar power’s fast growth to a decrease in the price of photovoltaic panels in a generously oversupplied market, making the energy source more competitive with other types of renewable energy.
Additionally, the possibility for homeowners to simply rent panels rather than purchasing them has helped their popularity.
Around 55 percent of US demand for solar panels currently comes from power generating companies.
Another 30 percent comes from businesses that have large buildings and massive rooftops where installing solar systems for their own power makes sense.
This includes companies like retail giant Walmart, and Google, which puts the panels on top of its huge data centers.
The rest of demand comes from the residential sector.