Thanks to lower costs that have fueled tremendous solar power growth and wind power expansion in the past few years, renewable energy can now truly compete with fossil fuels.
Right now, a new solar photovoltaic (PV) system gets installed in the United States every four minutes, totaling about 130,000 systems in a year. That rate is expected to jump to a new installment every 80 seconds in the next year or two. Solar power growth since 2010 has been explosive: The amount of electricity sourced from the sun has increased more than 400 percent in those five years. Wind power has experienced a big growth spurt, too: Nationwide, wind capacity grew by 90 percent in 2012.
Overall, U.S. renewables are entering a new era of cost-competitiveness. Since January 2012, installations of renewables have accounted for about 50 percent of new domestic electricity-generating capacity, while natural gas has accounted for 38 percent and coal has clocked in at 13 percent. Jobs in the U.S. energy industry have matched renewables’ rapid growth. Solar jobs now outnumber coal mining jobs, and wind power jobs aren’t far behind, especially in manufacturing. The United States is home to more than 500 plants that manufacture wind turbine parts and equipment.
What’s driving the surge in solar and wind? In short, prices. The price of a PV panel has dropped 63 percent since 2010, bringing utility-scale system costs down to $1.85 per watt. Residential PV systems cost about one-third less than they did only three years ago. Federal and state tax incentives have helped bolster home solar for years, but now more than half of new home solar systems are installed without financial help from state governments. Wind power has also seen a steep drop in costs. In the past three years, turbine costs have plummeted 40 percent, and nine states installed enough turbines to supply at least 12 percent of their electricity from wind.