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Identifying Signs of the Solar Revolution Using Maps and Graphs

solar power, electric power sector, united states

Utility-scale photo voltaic has skilled explosive progress within the U.S. in recent times, and the most effective years might but nonetheless be on the horizon.

Whereas enhancements to photo voltaic applied sciences have been among the many most enjoyable renewable power developments in recent times, photo voltaic power just isn’t with out its naysayers who level out that “photo voltaic power barely strikes the needle within the U.S. power combine.” Such pessimism evokes the quote from Power: A Human Historical past relating to the Industrial Revolution, which states that the typical Englishman:

“Can be in little question concerning the prevalence of a revolution throughout the Channel in France, however he would have been astonished to study that he was dwelling in the midst of what future generations would additionally time period a revolution.”

The Industrial Revolution was probably the most vital transformation in power use in human historical past, so the concept these dwelling on the precipice of it didn’t acknowledge its significance is eye-opening. Maybe the current rise in solar energy is just starting to maneuver the needle, however just like the Industrial Revolution we’re in reality on the foot of an analogous solar energy (and, extra broadly, renewable power) revolution in america.

To check this concept, wanting on the prevalence and progress tendencies of U.S. photo voltaic offers greater than a handful of clues. Let’s look at this proof by means of 5 units of maps and graphs.

Essential to notice is that the info for these graphics comes from the U.S. Power Info Administration (EIA) and their detailed state knowledge for the U.S. electrical energy sector in 2017— and this knowledge thus doesn’t embrace residential and business photo voltaic setups, which account for about 1/three of the nation’s complete general photo voltaic era. This evaluation focuses on utility-scale energy to seize the purposes almost definitely to displace fossil gasoline baseload era. 

1. Demonstrating present penetration of solar energy throughout states

General, america noticed over 53 million megawatthours (MWh) of photo voltaic era within the electrical energy sector in 2017, accounting for 1.three% of complete era. To zoom in a bit, the next maps characterize the whole solar energy era within the electrical energy sector for every state.

Knowledge Supply: U.S. Power Info Administration


solar power, electric power sector. united states

Knowledge Supply: U.S. Power Info Administration

These maps reveal the wide selection of penetrations solar energy has made within the electrical energy sectors amongst numerous states. Whereas California leads the nation by a large margin at over 24 million MWh generated (greater than 4 occasions the era of second place North Carolina), eight totally different states exceeded 1 million MWh of photo voltaic era in 2017. For reference, the typical U.S. family consumes about 10,800 kilowatthours (kWh) per yr– which means 1 million MWh is sufficient to energy virtually 100,000 houses for a yr. On a proportion foundation, solar energy accounted for 11.eight% of California’s electrical energy sector and 10.9% of Nevada’s, the nation’s chief in that regard.

On the opposite finish of the size, although, 5 states had no photo voltaic era by utilities in 2017 and one other 14 states fell under 50,000 MWh of photo voltaic era, accounting for fairly a small portion of the power mixes in these states. When it comes to portion of the power combine, 12 states noticed solar energy between 1% and 6% of their electrical energy in 2017  and one other 36 falling under 1%.

The breakdown of the place photo voltaic era within the electrical energy sector is prevalent or not as widespread largely strains up with the next map, generated by the Nationwide Renewable Power Laboratory, that shows the power and prevalence of photo voltaic irradiance (a proxy for a way a lot daylight hits a area throughout a mean day and thus how a lot potential solar energy might be generated):

solar irradiance, NREL, solar power, map

Supply: Nationwide Renewable Power Laboratory

The miniscule photo voltaic era totals of sure areas are the numbers photo voltaic pessimists are seeing when mentioning the supposed non-viability of photo voltaic as a nationwide power answer (whereas ignoring the huge era in California and different U.S. main states). However just like the Englishmen who did not see how the nascent steam engine was about to vary the world, these critics are solely seeing a part of the story.

2. Figuring out age of solar energy in every state

A chief facet of electrical energy sector photo voltaic era that too typically will get missed is how younger the business is in a lot of the United States. To show that concept, the under map highlights when every state first noticed photo voltaic era contribute to the electrical energy sector, whereas the graph under the map exhibits the annual progress in variety of states with photo voltaic era and general U.S. photo voltaic era.

solar generation, electric power sector, united states, map

Knowledge Supply: U.S. Power Info Administration

solar generation, electric power sector, United States, graph

Knowledge Supply: U.S. Power Info Administration

The necessary takeaway right here is how beginning in 1990 (when EIA knowledge on the state-by-state electrical energy sector is first obtainable), solely three states had any utilities with photo voltaic era. From then via 2007, that determine remained under 5 states. The truth that photo voltaic didn’t account for a good portion of the U.S. power combine by means of then ought to thus come as no shock. Up to now decade, although, photo voltaic has expanded into about four new states per yr, reaching a complete of 45 states in 2017. With that presence in new states got here a rise in complete era that averaged about 61% per yr. That sort of sustained progress is the harbinger of photo voltaic revolution, corroborated by additional evaluation of this knowledge.

three. Evaluating photo voltaic with different renewable power sources in state electrical energy sectors

One other telling strategy to the photo voltaic knowledge is evaluating photo voltaic era with different notable era sources. Whereas some states generate a majority of their electrical energy from a single gasoline (corresponding to Rhode Island’s electrical energy sector being 92% reliant on pure fuel and West Virginia’s 93% on coal), most states rely extra evenly on quite a few power sources. Solar energy isn’t but the best supply of era in any state, and as of 2008 (the primary yr through which at the very least 10 states had photo voltaic era of their electrical energy sectors) photo voltaic was not even among the many prime two most outstanding renewable power sources in any state. However, as the next maps present, that has modified within the years since:

solar power, renewable energy, map, electric power sector

Knowledge Supply: U.S. Power Info Administration                                  Click on to enlarge

Among the many six renewable power sources tracked in EIA’s knowledge (hydroelectric, wind, photo voltaic, geothermal, wooden and wooden derived fuels, and different biomass), solar energy went from the least prevalent throughout america to the third most outstanding (behind solely hydroelectric and wind). In the meantime, on a state-by-state foundation, solar energy went from:

  • 41 states with no photo voltaic era in 2008 to only 5 in 2017
  • 1 state the place photo voltaic was current however under all different renewable sources in 2008 to zero in 2017
  • three states the place photo voltaic was the fifth commonest renewable supply in 2008 to 11 in 2017
  • four states the place photo voltaic was the fourth commonest renewable supply in 2008 to 16 in 2017
  • 1 state the place photo voltaic was the third commonest renewable supply in 2008 to 9 in 2017
  • zero states the place photo voltaic was the second commonest renewable supply in 2008 to 7 in 2017
  • zero states the place photo voltaic was the most typical renewable supply in 2008 to three in 2017

Provided that 6 states depend on renewable power era sources for a majority of their electrical energy sector and 16 get at the least 1 / 4 of their complete power combine from renewables, photo voltaic’s rise within the renewable ranks is telling. Renewable power is turning into essential to the grids throughout the nation, and photo voltaic is an more and more very important a part of that push.

four. Analyzing absolute progress of the photo voltaic sector on a state-by-state foundation

Along with seeing how solar energy has grown in rank amongst renewable power sources in every state, analyzing which states have seen their solar energy develop most shortly within the electrical energy sector supplies insights into totally different areas of the nation. The highest 45 states (excluding the 5 with no photo voltaic in 2017) in absolute era progress over the previous 5, 10, and 20 years could be ranked as such:

solar generation, solar power, map. United States

Knowledge Supply: U.S. Power Info Administration

solar power, solar generation, map, United States

Knowledge Supply: U.S. Power Info Administration

solar power, solar growth, united states, map

Knowledge Supply: U.S. Power Info Administration

These totally different home windows of time are sometimes helpful to analyzing how tendencies have modified through the years, however what these three maps as an alternative show is that the rating of progress stays principally uniform over the totally different time durations– 33 of the 45 states don’t transfer greater than three spots within the rankings between time durations. Two features of the photo voltaic progress in utilities issue into this development:

  1. The early photo voltaic adopters received forward of the training curve by getting into the market a decade or two earlier than many different states (the highest four states in progress over every of those time durations– Arizona, California, North Carolina, and Nevada– account for over two-thirds of complete photo voltaic progress and have been every among the many first 10 states with electrical energy sector photo voltaic era) which obtained the ball rolling early and stored them within the lead.
  2. Virtually 92% of photo voltaic era progress in utilities throughout the nation has come on-line since 2012, so the states that added probably the most over that 5-year interval are mathematically additionally the states that added probably the most over the 10-year and 20-year durations as properly.

These details are compelling proof concerning the fairly current nature of photo voltaic progress and the additional room photo voltaic nonetheless has to develop within the electrical energy sector.

5. Breaking down the highest years for photo voltaic progress throughout the nation

The final proof for the blossoming photo voltaic revolution comes within the following tables that show probably the most notable years of progress. Beginning with general U.S. photo voltaic progress within the electrical energy sector, the info exhibits the next:

solar power growth, solar power, renewable energy

Knowledge Supply: U.S. Power Info Administration

Wanting on the prime 10 years for electrical energy sector photo voltaic progress throughout the nation, the eight particular person years of most vital progress have come over the previous eight years, with the expansion growing in magnitude in 7 of these years. That’s what forecasters (and future historians) may take a look at as an inflection level of revolutionary progress.

Investigating the info on a state-by-state foundation, the next desk lists every occasion when a state added multiple million MWh of photo voltaic era to the electrical energy sector:

solar power, solar generation, United States, electric power sector

Knowledge Supply: U.S. Power Info Administration

Two notable takeaways leap out from this desk:

  • Throughout the nation, seven distinctive states have had a yr of such super progress, which exhibits that the revolution is just not restricted to only one or two states.
  • Of the 14 occasions such progress has occurred, 11 situations have occurred up to now two years and the opposite three occurred since 2013, which exhibits that probably the most vital and essential progress is occurring right now and such progress exhibits no indicators of plateauing or dropping off.

In the long run, the mentioned knowledge and graphs inform a narrative fairly totally different from those that knock the potential of solar energy. Photo voltaic solely actually gained significance within the electrical energy sector of the USA up to now decade, with no presence in 46 states till 2008. These new markets and this shortly advancing progress is the story to observe– not simply the place photo voltaic era is in the present day however how shortly and just lately it has ascended and can proceed to develop. The know-how is simply enhancing and the prices are dropping. As these traits of photo voltaic proceed to be refined, future generations will look again at these a number of years and marvel how we noticed something however potential for revolution in solar energy.


Concerning the writer: Matt Chester is an power analyst in Washington DC, studied engineering and science & know-how coverage on the College of Virginia, and operates the Chester Power and Coverage weblog and web site to share information, insights, and recommendation within the fields of power coverage, power know-how, and extra. For extra fast hits along with posts on this weblog, comply with him on Twitter @ChesterEnergy.


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