2010 Was Record-Breaking Year for Solar

In 2010 the United States installed more solar power capacity than in any year past, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).  Last year topped the previously held 2009 record, with the solar electric industry installing enough new megawatts to power 200,000 homes. From California to New Jersey and in almost every state in between, the solar industry is expanding to become an energy source fully capable of competing with fossil fuel and nuclear plants. While construction of new coal plants remains at a standstill and nuclear energy falls out of favor, solar power is growing faster than almost any other part of the economy.

Sixteen states installed more than ten megawatts of solar power last year—a fourfold increase from the year 2007. New Jersey managed to install more than a hundred megawatts of capacity in one year, an achievement previously accomplished only by California. All told, five states installed over fifty megawatts of solar capacity in 2010. SEIA believes these numbers point to an important trend in the US solar industry: once relegated largely to California and a few other mainly Southwestern states, large-scale solar power is rapidly becoming a national phenomenon.

California continued to lead in new solar installations in 2010, adding 258.9 megawatts. However the top ten states for absolute solar growth are spread across the country. In addition to Southwestern states like Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico, less obvious names on the list include New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina. Sunny Florida, long seen as a prime site for solar industry expansion, made it onto the top ten list, as did rising solar power Texas.

Yet even with such impressive growth in 2010, the US solar industry is still a long way from reaching its true potential. Solar growth figures that seem so impressive in the United States pale in comparison to countries like Germany and Italy, both of which have well-structured government incentives to encourage the solar industry. US growth was made possible in part by Congress’ decision to extend tax incentives for solar power, which helped solar compete with the heavily subsidized fossil fuel industries. Yet the United States has yet to adopt wider-reaching policies like a national feed-in tariff system that have allowed the solar industry in other countries to take off.

The future of the solar industry now rests in the hands of Congress and state legislatures. While it is inevitable that solar power will continue to grow, government policy will determine how fast that growth occurs. If the right incentives are put in place, installed solar capacity could soar to new heights in the years ahead, creating thousands of jobs and helping the planet along the way.

Photo credit: Jim Clark