March 2017 issue: The Installation Issue, 17 tips for better projects


 

The next solar battle: grid upgrades

With the investment tax credit extension firmly in our rearview mirror, we’re approaching the next fork in the road of solar acceleration—grid stability and longevity. The U.S. solar industry will not be able to continue to grow at this accelerated pace if the electric grid doesn’t see upgrades.

Renewable industry associations have come together to call more attention to the issues around electrical infrastructure. Leaders with the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA); the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA); the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA); WIRES, the non-profit working group for electric transmission owners, investors and customers; and other groups sent a letter to Congress, urging the legislative body to promote grid investments that “lessen the economic impact of electrical outages and ensure that the country’s high-voltage transmission system is productive and secure.”

“Modern electricity infrastructure is the missing piece of the puzzle that will allow the greater use of clean, abundant sources of energy in communities across America,” said SEIA’s president and CEO Abigail Ross Hopper in a press release. “We’ve seen lower cost clean energy expand dramatically in parts of the country with modern infrastructure, and that is a trend that will only continue with supportive and sensible policy.”

Modernizing grid infrastructure across the United States is the only way the solar industry will keep up its record-breaking installation numbers year after year. SEIA and GTM Research recently released their year-in-review report, which found 2016 to be the biggest solar year on record—14.7 GW installed, nearly doubling 2015’s numbers. The report also expects the U.S. solar market to triple in size over the next five years, even though 2017 installations are predicted to drop 10% over the previous year. Utility-scale’s massive boom in 2016 (as more projects were planned to meet the ITC deadline) is to blame for 2017’s slight slip. But in the meantime, residential and commercial installations will continue their upward growth.

GTM Research expects the residential market to grow 9% this year with 36 of 40 tracked states growing year-over-year. Twentytwo states added more than 100 MW of solar PV in 2016. This means more solar is coming to more states—even those we assumed would never get on board. Grid infrastructure is now more critical than ever.

It may not seem as timely as our fight for ITC extension, but grid modernization is a battle worth taking on. If infrastructure spending can be used on our electric grid, maybe our issues with net metering won’t seem so grand. Just as important as bridges and roads, upgrading our transmission lines is an important step to modernizing our infrastructure. Not only will it provide us with a more secure electrical backbone, we’ll also be able to ensure successful solar growth for decades to come.

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