Solar Spikes . . . But Still Only 0.14% of Electricity

Solar Spikes . . . But Still Only 0.14% of Electricity
Solar Spikes . . . But Still Only 0.14% of Electricity

The Solar Energy Industries Association was celebrating last week that new installations had risen more than 100 percent in the second quarter over the same period last year. The figure did not quite match the all-time high of 4Q 2011, but represented a 50 percent increase over 1Q 2012. 

The graph on the left shows new photovoltaic installations by quarter in megawatts of capacity since 2010. The figures do not include the large solar thermal installations that are being built in desert areas. The figure for Q2 was 741.7 MW, which is about 3/4 the size of a large coal plant or nuclear reactor. Solar panels only operate at about 20 percent of capacity, however, so the number should be divided by five to get a fair comparison.  The different shades of blue represent residential (dark blue), commercial and industrial (medium blue) and utility installations (light blue). The main variation has been in utility construction.

But as Michael Sandoval points out on The Foundry, even with all this new construction, solar electricity still makes up only 0.14 percent of our electrical output - little more than 1/10th of 1 percent. The graph at right shows total solar generation in 1000s of megawatt-hours per day over the past ten years. The number was less than 5,000 mWh until 2011 and has now climbed to about 10,000. "Total net generation and consumption for June, however, approached 361,800.000 megawatt hours, or approximately 12,000,000 megawatt hours per day," writes Sandoval. With that kind of output, the 10,000 mWh from solar remains a drop in the bucket.

Writes Sandoval:

Coal provided 36.4 percent of June's output, with natural gas supplying another 32.1 percent. By comparison, wind generation stood at 3.2 percent of the month's overall total.

The six-month total from EIA, showing output from January 2012 to June 2012, paints an even bleaker picture of solar's contributions to the electric grid. With net generation of just 1,664,000 megawatt hours of the nearly 2 billion megawatt hours derived from all energy sources over the first half of the year, solar energy's portion of net generation stood at just 0.09 percent.

Solar generated less than 10 percent of the energy derived from wood and other wood-derived fuels and was the smallest contributor to the overall energy grid.

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