There has been some exciting buzz swirling around recently about the future of renewable energy. We continue to see an increase in the amount of wind, solar and geothermal capabilities that we have at our disposal. This is great news as we attempt to break our dependence on dirty fossil fuels and move towards the clean energy economy of the future.
In January, renewable energy accounted for nearly 99 percent of all new electric capacity, meaning that virtually all the recent growth in our country’s ability to produce energy occurred thanks to new clean energy facilities. The solar industry, in particular, led the way last month, 287 megawatts—more than 88 percent—of all new capacity.
This increase was not a fluke, but has in fact become a trend in recent months with solar power dominating this new electrical capacity. In fact, in 2013 the solar industry installed 2.3 gigawatts of power, making solar the second-largest source of new power generation in the country. At the same time, the industry added 143,000 manufacturing and solar installation jobs nationwide, a 20 percent increase. As Energy Secretary Ernest J. Moniz observed, it was “a banner year for solar.”
This growth in the solar sector can be attributed to a combination of investments and initiatives made by both the private and public sector; while the Department of Energy provided loans to jumpstart the first five large-scale solar power facilities, the next ten large solar plants were able to secure private financing. Even more growth can be expected now that President Obama has approved two solar projects that will be built on public lands near the Nevada-California border. Once these solar projects are up and running, they will create 700 American jobs and power around 170,000 homes. The states are also playing their part. For instance, the Connecticut state legislature is currently working on a community solar bill to increase access to solar energy for their residents.
All of these advancements are moving our country forward towards a greener future, but we must not stop here. Key energy incentives like the recently-expired wind Production Tax Credit are still in limbo, so we must continue to demand that our elected officials make the clean energy investments necessary to end our dependence on dirty fossil fuels.
(Photograph taken by Oregon Department of Transportation)