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Double Dose of Good News for Solar Industry

The first months of 2024 have yielded some promising news for those who are considering making a switch to solar, or thinking about investing in solar companies.
The first story concerns the growth of solar power in the US, where the renewable energy source has reached an all-time high. The second story involves a recent study from University of Texas at Austin, where researchers have quantified the cost savings from using solar power at a neighborhood-wide level.
Read on to learn more.

Solar Hits All-time High

Recent data published by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) has shown that for the month of April, renewable energy has contributed to more than 30% of US energy production.

This marked a growth of 13.5% when compared to April 2023, totalling 31% for the whole month, hitting an all-time high.

A significant portion of that came from solar power, making solar the fastest growing renewable energy source in the United States.

According to the data from EIA, the growth of industrial and domestic-scale solar increased by 25.4% in the first four months of 2024, compared to the same period the previous year.

Smaller-scale solar power, such as those found on residential rooftops grew by 19.3%, which industrial-scale solar grew by 28.4%. The industrial solar power data includes both solar thermal and photovoltaic systems.

As a consequence of this growth, solar power accounted for 6.0% of total US electrical generation during the first months of 2024, and hit an all-time high of 8.4% in April.

“EIA’s latest data do not yet include the sunniest days and weeks of the year and it can therefore be assumed that more records will be broken by renewables in the months ahead,” said Ken Bossong executive director of the the SUN DAY Campaign.

“And it appears that renewables are once again out-performing earlier EIA projections.”

He SUN DAY Campaign is a non-profit education and research organization founded to promote the use of renewable energy.

The SUN DAY Campaign has also published their review of another data set released by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), showing that solar provided 86.8% of all new capacity in the first quarter of 2024.

In March alone, the FERC data showed that solar accounted for 99.7% of capacity added, marking the seventh month in a row in which it provided more new U.S. electrical generating capacity than any other energy source.

Study Shows How Solar Benefits Entire Grid

Besides the positive trends the SUN DAY Campaign has highlighted, a recent study from the University of Texas at Austin has also shown how solar infrastructure can benefit the grid, resulting in savings to the customer

The study by researcher Nick Laws has highlighted the financial benefits of easing demand for electricity on the grid. The research focused on enhancing the durability of grid hardware by reducing the loads during peak demand periods in particular, and overall demand in general.

Laws has concluded that residents and businesses can contribute to decreasing the load on the grid through investing rooftop solar, community solar, and battery storage systems. These solutions, referred to as non-wires alternatives, also encompass electric vehicle charging networks that can be regulated to temper grid demand during the periods of high load.

For this research, Laws devised a methematical model that evaluated how electricity demand impacted a neighborhood-sized portion of the grid over a period of twenty years.

The analysis showed that in the case where properties did not have battery storages or customer-owned resources, the cost of delivering electricity to consumers was $7.2 million annually.

This figure included the high retail rates for electricity during the period of high demand, and also factored in the costs of new equipment on the grid. It was concluded that where optimal incentives to encourage the accumulation of demand-reducing tools are put in place, the annual cost was reduced to $4.2 million for the same simulated neighbourhood. The savings made from using non-wires technologies translated to approximately or $3 million per year, which could be passed on to consumers.

According to the study, the concept of “optimal incentives” was paramount in achieving these savings. In order for consumers to be encouraged to adopt such technologies, the utilities providers would need to pay customers in order to use equipment that reduces demand on the grid. The actual amount of cash paid out to customers would be variable and would be relative to the reduction in demand. This approach would ensure that the cost savings are maximized and distributed fairly among all grid users.

The study quantifies what grid operators have known anecdotally: local resources like batteries can save money by extending the life of grid equipment. Additionally, these savings can alleviate supply chain pressures for power equipment, allowing more focus on expanding and modernizing the grid.

So, to summarize, solar power has achieved unprecedented production levels in the US, and concurrent research has demonstrated cost reductions can be gained when solar infrastructure is deployed.

“The era of renewables has dawned,” commented Dave Jones, Ember’s director of global insights at Ember, a climate think-tank.

“Solar, especially, is advancing beyond expectations. The decline in power sector emissions is now certain. 2023 likely marked the turning point – the peak emissions in the power sector – a significant milestone in energy history. However, the pace of emission reduction depends on the continuity of the renewables revolution.”

It’s fair to say, that the solar-genie is truly out of the bottle.