Over 76 gigawatts of solar has been installed in the United States to date. For perspective, the estimated output reduces the same carbon emissions as planting over 10.6 million mature trees or reducing the consumption of over 72.5 million gallons of gasoline.
The industry itself really started booming after the implementation of the 2006 federal investment tax credit (ITC) to ease the cost of going solar – providing a 30% tax credit against the cost of every purchased system array. 2020 marks the first year that the legislation mandates the percentage to decrease to 26%, and that number will continue incrementally decreasing to 10% by 2026.
Solar power, as of now, is as affordable as it ever will be in the foreseeable future. The uncertainty of tax credits, paired with an unpredictable grid infrastructure, may create a sense of urgency to increase solar adoption in the US this year. Luckily, this sense of financial urgency is met with a new report from Berkeley Lab: Solar plants are getting even more affordable to maintain with longer operating lifespans. This is great news for the 2,500+ solar plants throughout the country and anyone receiving electricity from them.
In 2007, the assumes lifespan for utility-scale solar plants were roughly 21.5 years. Today, that lifespan is projected to be upwards of 32.5 years – and while O&M costs are currently considered “rock bottom” after the industry was able to slash costs by up to 50%, a substantially longer life for modules means a lot more power output for the initial investment. Most financial agreements last about 20-25 years, but the system itself is always paid off well before reaching a second decade.
As the solar industry continues to evolve and mature, the focus is slowly being pivoted toward optimizing the performance in the long run vs additional cost-cutting, according to a recent quote from Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables principal analyst, Daniel Liu. “The thinking is that in some cases, O&M costs may be higher, but the tradeoff is that overall plant availability – and therefore energy production – will increase.”
These findings are yet another step in the right direction toward mass solar and storage adoption that will not only provide more reliable and sustainable energy, but will continue to serve as a method to combat climate change.