Solar Across Oregon and the Globe

Solar energy is not an entirely new concept, but it continues to emerge as an alternative to fossil fuels.

Oregon and the Solar Sprint

Solar-Sprint-logoThe Solar Sprint campaign’s has set a high bar of achieving 10,000 new solar installations in Washington and Oregon in two years.  This ambitious goal is nearly double of any previous year.  Solar installations in Oregon have been relatively flat over the last four years — approximately 1,700 a year.  The deadline is set to coincide with expiration of the federal tax credit in December 2016 which covers 30% of the cost of residential solar projects.  Research has shown that customers need a sense of urgency to move forward with large decisions, such as purchasing solar — this campaign gives us one.

The Northwest is working to define its energy future, adopting plans and building long-term infrastructure that will solidify choices for the next generation.  Will the Northwest’s future be focused on fossil fuel exports and natural gas or will Oregon move to build clean, local solar energy with a reduction in transmission losses.

With the cost of solar by 50% in the last five years, the number of Northwest households with solar energy has increased significantly to approximately 10,000 in Oregon and 2,000 in Washington.  Historically, solar customers have been value-based with less sensitivity to cost.  However, as prices fall, solar is reaching a broader community including Northwesterners who recognize solar energy as a return on investment. Solar energy has reached the easiest targets and the initial enthusiasm for Solarize campaigns has waned.

World Leaders in Solar

Below are the top 10 countries that have invested in solar energy as of the end of 2014. There have been some interesting changes in the last 5 years. For example, since 2010, China is using more solar energy and moved from 8th place to 2nd place.  Germany (which actually gets less sun annually than Oregon) remains in the top spot having developed a lot of solar early in the game

1. Germany: 35.5 GW

In 2010, Germany was clearly the world leader, and has only continued the trend. The combination of a proven feed-in-tariff (FiT) scheme, good financing opportunities, a large availability of skilled PV companies, and a good public awareness of the PV technology, largely contributed to this successd.

Despite a slowdown in 2013, Germany is expected to remain the top solar market in Europe for the coming years, and still boasts a quarter of the world’s installed PV capacity 26 percent, compared to the 13 percent held by each of the next two countries on the list, Italy and China.

2. China: 18.3 GW

As the world’s most populous nation, and the one with the biggest carbon footprint, it’s good news that China has made such a major commitment to solar power. Since our 2009 research, China has grown its solar capacity by an astounding 6,000 percent — from less than one-third of a gigawatt of capacity to 18.3 GW. It helps that China is a major solar panel manufacturer, and the government has had to repeatedly raise its renewable energy targets.  Coupled with a commitment to cut its coal use, the world’s biggest carbon polluter could soon also be the country powered with the most green energy.

3. Italy: 17.6 GW

Not only has Italy continued its leadership in solar — rising from fifth place in 2010 to third place in 2013 — it generates more of its energy from solar than any other nation, with 7.8 percent of its energy coming from solar, compared to 6.2 percent for Germany. Mixing net-metering and a well-segmented feed-in tariff, Italy has become a world leader in solar energy.

4. Japan: 13.6 GW

Japan fell from third place in 2010 to fourth place in 2014, but remains also a country worth emulating — in the past four years the country has grown its solar capacity by more than 500 percent. Government residential PV programs, net-metering, high national solar energy goals to reach 28 GW by 2020 and 53 GW by 2030, as well as the support of local authorities and the private sector make Japan a world leader in this field. Japan is starting the first of many floating solar farms off the island nation’s coasts.

5. United States: 12 GW

It’s hard to believe that a country that grew its solar capacity by 750 percent in four years could still have lost standing in the global solar boom, but that just goes to show how quickly the field is changing. The United States have benefited as much as anyone from the steadily dropping price of solar, aided by smart financing and some supportive state policies. With many large ground-mounted solar projects in the pipeline, installed capacity in the US is expected to grow significantly in coming years.

6. Spain: 5.6 GW

Spain was the world leader in newly installed PV solar energy (2,605 MW) in 2008 due to the government’s focus on creating a national solar energy industry, but has since dropped significantly at a time when Spain didn’t even double its capacity, when Germany nearly quadrupled its solar capacity. The reasons for this drop are attributed to complexity and delays related to a new government subsidy program and a decrease in energy demand due to the economic crisis.

7. France: 4.6 GW

The country’s solar growth has been slowed by a lack of political support for solar incentives, which the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA) attributes to attacks from the nuclear and fossil fuel energy industries.

8. Australia: 3.3 GW

The first of two newcomers to our list of the top 10 countries using solar power, Australia has in the past five years made the most of its sun-drenched status — though its continued growth is in question. Smart policies including feed-in tariffs, rebates and a federal mandatory renewable energy target has helped grow the industry by 2600 percent, reaching 3.3 gigawatts in 2013. Between steadily dropping solar prices and the fact that Australia boasts some of the greatest solar potential in the world, solar power costs less than half what grid electricity costs.

9. Belgium: 3GW

Belgium’s success stems was from a well-designed Green Certificates scheme (which actually works as a Feed-in Tariff), combined with additional tax rebates and electricity self-consumption.

10. United Kingdom: 2.9 GW

Another poster child for the global solar boom, the United Kingdom didn’t make the top 10 list in 2009, with just 27 MW of solar capacity. But it has made quick growth since then, and nearly doubled its solar capacity, installing more even than Italy, the current 5th-place holder.