Solar Power Solutions Brief

Resumen de soluciones de energía solar

Mar 10, 2021

A new Climate Central solutions brief on solar power examines one modeled pathway to net zero emissions that shows opportunities for significant job growth across the country. It also provides an overview of trends in solar in the U.S. and terminology.

KEY CONCEPTS

  • Solar power has expanded dramatically in recent years, becoming the leading technology installed for new power generation around the world. In 2019, it accounted for 45% of global capacity added. Last year, solar power became the cheapest source of electricity in many parts of the world, outcompeting fossil fuels like coal and natural gas. 
  • A new Solutions Brief by Climate Central explains the growth of solar and dives into projections of how much more solar is needed to reach net zero emissions. Look for more Climate Central solutions issue briefs in the upcoming months.
  • Despite the pandemic, the U.S. added a record 19 gigawatts of solar in 2020, for a total of 89 GW installed capacity. That’s enough to power 16.4 million American homes. But we have a long way to go.
  • Net Zero America (NZA), a research initiative by scientists and engineers at Princeton University,  identified five pathways by which the U.S. could transform its energy system to get to net-zero emissions by 2050. In one scenario, most states will see growth in utility-scale solar capacity (42 states) and in solar jobs (34 states) by 2030. By 2050, the economy could add 495 new solar jobs per 10,000 people nationwide, suggesting that solar could become a significant industry and major employer by the next decade.

READ FULL REPORT HERE

Solar power has expanded dramatically in recent years, becoming the leading technology installed for new power generation globally. In 2019, it accounted for 45% of global capacity added. Last year, solar power became the cheapest source of electricity in many parts of the world, outcompeting fossil fuels like coal and natural gas. 

Despite the pandemic, the U.S. added a record 19 gigawatts of solar in 2020, for a total of 89 GW installed capacity. That’s enough to power 16.4 million American homes. But we have a long way to go.

Net Zero America (NZA), a research initiative by scientists and engineers at Princeton University,  identified five pathways which would get the U.S. to net-zero emissions by 2050. One scenario (high electrification, or E+) finds that most states will see growth in utility-scale solar capacity (42 states) and in solar jobs (34 states) by 2030. Overall, the economy could add 495 new solar jobs per 10,000 people nationwide, suggesting that solar could become a significant industry and major employer by the next decade. Some of the findings include:

  • Texas and California, largely due to their size and sun exposure, lead the nation in the total number of solar industry jobs in 2030. 
  • Not unexpectedly, Florida, the Sunshine State, is expected to do well with the total number of solar jobs and solar job growth. Some of the largest solar installations in the country are breaking ground there in 2021.
  • South Carolina is expected to lead in the ranking of total solar industry jobs per 10,000 people, and could have an additional 105 solar jobs per 10,000 residents by 2030. 
  • Nebraska and North Dakota, two states that are perhaps not thought of first for sunbathing, would see large increases in solar industry vocations.  
  • And solar jobs are not restricted to sunny states. By 2050, the model predicts over a half million solar manufacturing jobs nationwide, outpacing solar jobs in the construction sector.

Solar energy has a number of social and economic benefits. By displacing fossil fuel-based electricity, solar electricity generation can reduce not only carbon dioxide emissions but also reduce air pollutants that are a threat to public health. And if equitable policies to deploy solar energy are put into place, disadvantaged communities could see significant co-benefits such as reduced energy bills and good jobs (see examples in full brief).

READ FULL REPORT HERE

POTENTIAL LOCAL STORY ANGLES

Where are solar energy systems being installed near me?
An interactive map at SEIA shows the amount of solar energy capacity installed in each state, as well as the number of installations and solar industry jobs. You can also search their list of major solar projects

How do I know if rooftop solar would work for houses, businesses or communities near me?
There are a number of calculators to help estimate solar potential. GoGreenSolar helps you figure out the number of solar panels you would need. Google’s Project Sunroof analyzes your roof shape and local weather patterns (warning: it doesn’t cover everywhere yet). EnergySage’s calculator incorporates your location, state and federal incentives, and other information to estimate the potential for cost savings from installing solar. 

What types of solar incentives and policies are in my state? How can I find local solar job training programs?
The DSIRE (Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency), allows you to search for solar incentives or regulatory and permitting policies by state. Check the Interstate Renewable Energy Council’s database to see which states have certification or licensing requirements for installing solar. The U.S. Department of Energy lists a number of formal regional solar energy training programs

Check out Solutions Journalism to read what your peers are reporting about solar power projects, nearby and around the world:
Solutions Journalism Network is a non-profit organization that trains and supports journalists to report on how people are responding to the world’s largest social issues through rigorous evidence-based reporting. A search in their Solutions Story Tracker curated database finds that Massachusetts is using landfills for solar arrays and craft breweries in Ohio are using solar to become leaders in clean energy. And check out their Rooftop Solar Story Collection, which includes a number of solutions stories and discussion questions about solar.

LOCAL EXPERTS 

The SciLine service, 500 Women Scientists or the press offices of local universities may be able to connect you with local scientists who have expertise on solar energy. The American Association of State Climatologists is a professional scientific organization composed of all 50 state climatologists. The Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA) can help you find solar developers in your area and has a number of state affiliates.

NATIONAL EXPERTS 

  • Eric Larson, Ph.D. Senior Research Faculty Member, Energy Systems Analysis Group
    Princeton University, Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment
    Expertise:
    elarson@princeton.edu  
     
  • Chuck Kutscher, Ph.D., P.E. Fellow and Senior Research Associate, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Institute, University of Colorado-Boulder (Former Director, NREL Buildings and Thermal Sciences Center, retired).
    chuck.kutscher@gmail.com  
     
  • Erin Mayfield, Ph.D. Environmental engineer and public policy researcher
    Princeton University, Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment
    Expertise: Complex systems analysis, optimization, and environmental economics
    erinnm@princeton.edu
     
  • Ryan Moya, M.S./M.P.A., Managing Director of Sustainability
    National Housing Trust
    Expertise: Solar on multi-family and affordable housing
    rmoya@nhtinc.org 
     
  • GRID Alternatives, a non-profit organization aims to build community-powered solutions to advance economic and environmental justice through renewable energy. Please contact media manager Kirsten Rumsey (media@gridalternatives.org) to speak with the following:
    • Erica Mackie, Founder and CEO
      Expertise: providing solar for low-income families through single-family, multifamily, and community solar installations. 
       
    • Erika Symmonds, Vice President of Workforce Development & Service-Learning
      Expertise: Solar workforce development programs
       
    • Tim Willink, Senior Director of Tribal Programs
      Expertise: Partnering with tribal communities on clean energy and job training opportunities.

METHODOLOGY

The Net-Zero America research identifies five distinct technological pathways, using technologies known today, by which the United States could decarbonize its entire economy. The information in this release is based on one of the pathways, the High Electrification (E+) scenario. Scenarios were constructed by imposing differing assumptions about the pace of electrification and constraints on the deployment of different energy sources over time, subject to the requirement that any carbon emissions remaining in 2050 are being balanced by removal of an equivalent amount of carbon from the atmosphere.

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