While President-select Donald Trump is picking fossil fuel industry insiders for key Cabinet positions, such as Exxon CEO Rex Tiller and “Mother in Love with Fracking” Amy Oliver Cooke, solar energy projects continue to move forward. In fact, when all is said and done, 2016 could very well go down in history as the year that solar energy overtook natural gas.
This is according to new data from the US Energy Information Agency (EIA), estimating that solar electrical energy generation will outpace that from natural gas by 9.4% this past year.
This month, about of an estimated 25.73 gigawatts of electrical energy generated, over 63% will have been generated by solar and wind-powered facilities. Natural gas still outpaces wind (31% vs. 26.4%), but taken together, renewables come out the clear winner.
And how much of this was generated by coal and petroleum? A mere 0.3 gigawatts, accounting for only just over 1% of the total.
These figures won’t be confirmed until March, but if these estimates turn out to be accurate, it represents a 200% increase in solar generation capacity over 2015. This represents a total of 9.5 gigawatts, enough to power a city the size of San Diego, California.
Tim Shear, who is an economist for the EIA, points out that if everything goes according to plan, “2016…would mark the first year that solar was the largest source of capacity.”
By all indications, renewable energy will continue to grow. Since this past January, the amount of renewable power generated in the U.S. has increased each and every month. As of the end of September, solar power capacity in the U.S. came to 35.8 gigawatts, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). That accounts for nearly 40% of all new electric generating capacity in the country.
What accounts for this growth? First of all, the cost of solar panels, like most new technology, has fallen dramatically in recent years. There was also an extension of the federal Solar Investment Tax Credit by Congress in 2016. It offers a 30% tax credit for solar systems installed on residential and commercial buildings, and has led to a 1600% increase in solar capacity over the past decade.
The question now is, will these trends continue under an Administration that is likely to be beholden to coal and oil interests? For years, the Rethuglicans in CON-gress, firmly in the back pocket of the fossil fuel industry, have been doing their level best to convince America that renewable energy is not viable.
Yet Germany has shut down 8 of 17 nuclear power plants and plan to take the rest offline by 2022. As of two years ago, Germany was meeting 78% of its electricity needs using renewable sources. 50% of it came from solar.
Consider that Germany lies in a region hardly known for its sunny climate. Yet, the U.S. has vast areas of land in the Southwest that receives an average of 300 days of sunshine a year.
So…what is our excuse? (Don’t answer that – we know.)