Will Solar Be the Most Dominant Form of Renewable Energy by 2023?
Solar power has been gaining momentum in recent years, even among gas and electric companies. Photovoltaic (PV) power has become so popular that researchers predict it'll be the most dominant renewable energy by 2023. With other options like hydropower, oil, gas, wind and geothermal, why is solar experiencing a surge in popularity?
A few years ago, solar power was so expensive that only large corporations and wealthy families could afford installation. Now, however, the price of solar is going down, and more people are taking advantage of these lower prices. Already, battery prices have dropped 84% since 2010 and module costs are down 89%. By 2030, experts predict module costs will decline another 34% as manufacturing becomes more efficient.
Additionally, the federal government offers a solar tax credit, allowing you to deduct 26% of the installation costs from your taxes. This deduction applies to both residential and commercial installations. However, next year this deduction will drop to 22%, and, from 2022 on, residential installations won't receive any incentive.
Rather, only commercial solar will receive a 10% tax credit. Subsequently, many are rushing to install PV systems before these cost-lowering incentives disappear, inevitably creating a surge in solar.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts residential electricity prices will rise by 1.2% this year, indicating a 13.1 cents per kilowatt-hour increase. Meanwhile, the current decline in natural gas production could set the stage for an increase in prices next year. The cost of powering a home or company with solar, however, is a fixed amount and won't fluctuate with the rest of the energy market. Moreover, solar is generally less expensive than traditional gas or electric.
In addition to being overly expensive, most traditional forms of energy depend on non-renewable fossil fuels. Thermoelectric power plants generate about 90% of the electricity in the U.S. Because these resources are non-renewable, humans will eventually deplete them, leaving no other choice than to adopt solar and other renewables. In the meantime, people will continue burning fuels, therein creating carbon emissions that exacerbate global warming and pollute the air.
Two years ago, a mere 25% of consumers preferred renewable utilities over non-renewables. Now, however, more than 40% prefer the former, and 45% say they would be willing to pay higher utility bills to achieve 100% renewable energy. As consumers become more environmentally conscious, they expect companies to do the same. Thus, to please and retain customers, many energy companies are making the switch to greener fuels and solar power.
Although the U.S. is still heavily dependent on fossil fuels, the very companies that burn them are beginning to switch to solar — and not just to please customers. Already, California and New York have ruled that power companies will get half their energy from renewables within the next 10 years. This slow transition will allow plants to stay in business and enable them to begin investing in the renewables which will inevitably become their future.
A World of Uncertainty
While many believe solar will become the poster child for the renewable revolution, this form of energy will have to jump a few hurdles first. One of the largest obstacles standing in the way of solar is pending tariffs. In recent years, the government has applied and unapplied tariffs and trade policies over and over again. Meanwhile, China remains the leading producer of solar panels.
With the U.S. unable to settle on trade regulations and negotiations, the future of solar power is uncertain. However, if the government rules in favor of solar and the costs don't skyrocket, solar could likely become the most dominant renewable in 2023.
Emily Folk is a conservation and sustainability writer and the editor of Conservation Folks.