The solar industry is rapidly scaling, accumulating capital, and expanding. Solar energy projects have become a major component of growth in the energy sector. Wind power has also proven to be viable. In 2012, the U.S. wind industry installed 13.1 gigawatts of electricity1, which was more newly installed energy generation capacity than any other source, including natural gas.
Since 2010, the price of installing a full photovoltaic (PV) system has dropped by nearly 50%2 and major companies such as Wal-Mart, IKEA, Costco, Kohl's, Google, and Apple have all invested in solar companies and projects. Wal-Mart currently produces more clean energy from solar on the roofs on its stores than 38 states. IKEA plans to get 100% of its energy from renewable sources. Warren Buffett has also invested billions in clean energy via his company, MidAmerican Renewables. It seems like the future is bright for investing in solar.
For electricity producers, alternative energy is proving to be a cost-effective option as well. Electricity giant Xcel Energy recently said this about solar energy:
This is the first time that we've seen, purely on a price basis, that the solar projects made the cut - without considering carbon costs or the need to comply with a renewable energy standard - strictly on an economic basis.Xcel CEO David Eves
The cost of solar panels has fallen by 99% in the past three decades, from $76.67 per watt in 1977 to about 75 cents per watt today.3 Over this time period as manufacturing capacity doubled the price of PV cells have dropped by 20%. This inverse relationship is now aptly named Swanson's Law, as originally observed by Richard Swanson, founder of Sunpower.
The cost of wind turbines has also declined dramatically over the same time period. Conversely coal, oil and natural gas continue to experience price increase. Despite the use of hydrofracking, natural gas costs across the world have doubled in the last decade and forecasts by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) predict steady price increases over the next 30 years.
Fossil fuels are also under pressure due to campaigns around the country that seek to divest investment portfolios from fossil fuel companies. More than 400 universities have participated in one form or another in divestment campaigns, while cities and even some religious institutions are also taking the pledge to divest from non-renewable fuels. Some major cities involved in divestiture include Seattle, WA, San Francisco, CA, Providence, RI, Madison, WI, and State College, PA.
As of 2012, the solar industry employs 119,000 Americans, which is larger than the coal industry's 87,5004. California and Arizona are the top two states with the most solar employees, with New Jersey rounding out number three.
In the second quarter of 2013 nearly 40,000 green jobs5 were added across the country. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, removing carbon emissions from power plants could create an additional 210,000 new jobs to meet new clean energy demands. In the past two years green jobs in Massachusetts have grown by 24%.
1 RenewableEnergyWorld.com; Wang, Ucilia
3 Economist.com; Carr, Geoffrey
4 Asian Pacific Environmental Network
5 TheEnergyCollective.com; Marcacci, Silvio