The solar industry installations boomed last year, adding a record amount of power to the electrical grid and becoming the top new energy source in the U.S.
The country added about 14,600 megawatts of solar energy installation in 2016, nearly doubling last year’s record total, according to GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).
For the first time, solar was the top new energy source in the country, accounting for 39 percent of new power coming on to the grid.
“The solar industry is a force to be reckoned with,” Abigail Ross Hopper, SEIA’s president and CEO, said in a statement. “Solar’s economically winning hand is generating strong growth across all market segments nationwide.”
The industry also grew to record employment levels last year, with 260,000 workers, according to a report released last week by The Solar Foundation.
The expanding market was led by large-scale utility solar farms, the report said. Investors pushed to start utility-scale projects, typically larger than 1 megawatt capacity, before a possible expiration of the federal investment tax credit. Congress eventually extended the 30 percent credit for clean energy projects.
Solar has become cheaper and more competitive with natural gas power generation.
“While U.S. solar grew across all segments, what stands out is the double-digit-gigawatt boom in utility-scale solar, primarily due to solar’s cost-competitiveness with natural-gas alternatives,” GTM Research solar analyst Cory Honeyman said in a statement.
The Solar Foundation reported last week that the industry added 51,000 U.S. jobs and grew at 17 times the rate of the rest of the economy. California remains the leader, with more than 100,000 workers engineering, manufacturing, selling and installing solar products.
File photo: The Ivanpah solar thermal project in California’s Mojave desert. Utility-scale projects drove solar installations to record levels in 2016. (Courtesy BrightSource)