Solar energy is becoming increasingly affordable and common in the U.S. When contrasted with previous years, solar noticed a yearly increase of 8.3% in 2022 alone. Solar power systems have increased 30-fold in the previous decade, and at the end of 2022, the total installed capacity in the U.S. has marked 145,598 gigawatt-hours.
Southern states have faced some of the most severe climate-induced weather events. In January 2023, tornadoes affected a vast number of residents, followed by powerful thunderstorms that claimed the lives of twenty-six individuals. A significant portion of carbon emissions are a result of power generation, particularly the combustion of petroleum and coal to produce heat and power. These alarming events underscore the urgent need to transition away from solely relying on fossil fuels like coal and petroleum. Embracing sustainable energy sources can help mitigate carbon emissions and safeguard the lives of millions in the southern states.
While the southern states stand to benefit immensely from solar power, the journey to widespread adoption faces hurdles, primarily from utilities and local governance. Many of these challenges could be addressed at state or regulatory levels, but these are arenas where utilities have historically held significant clout. Even as the environmental and economic advantages of solar become increasingly evident, many electric utilities only act on behalf of homeowners when policies require it. Yet, in the face of these challenges and despite net metering setbacks in some states, the determination of Southerners to transition to solar remains commendably strong.
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Growth of solar power in the U.S. South
Over the past ten years, the solar industry has grown 33% on average annually. The sunny south provides some of the highest potential for sunlight in the country, yet it has been a massively underused asset throughout the area in the last decade.
Southern states stand on the cusp of a solar revolution, with the potential for immense benefits, especially if businesses and local authorities champion equitable and proactive policies. Over the last five years, the south has witnessed a pronounced uptick in solar adoption, with Texas blazing the trail.
Key metrics demonstrating solar success
In 2021, solar energy production from PV modules in the United States reached an all-time high of 28.8 million peak kW, a significant jump from 21.8 million peak kW in 2020. Additionally, small-scale solar installations surged by 23% in 2021, totaling 5.4 GW, compared to 4.4 GW in the previous year. A substantial portion of this growth was seen in residential sectors, with household solar installations reaching 3.9 GW, up from 2.9 GW in 2020. A detailed breakdown of the leading states in rooftop solar adoption is provided in this table.
Table: US southern states with the largest rooftop solar panels (source: EIA).
|State||Energy (Peak kw)|
|California (for comparison)||5.09 million|
Solar power technologies have many environmental advantages. Harnessing the sun’s energy directly leads to reduced air pollutants, decreased water usage, and less dependence on traditional energy sources. Embracing solar in the south not only promotes environmental health but also significantly benefits human well-being. Studies indicate that by enhancing air and water quality, solar energy adoption could prevent between 25,000 to 59,000 premature deaths annually.
The solar industry is a blossoming employment hub. For every unit of solar energy produced, the sector employs more individuals than traditional energy counterparts like natural gas. In fact, the solar industry boasts over double the workforce of the coal sector. This presents a golden opportunity for job creation, especially in regions grappling with high unemployment and poverty rates. The graph below illustrates the robust workforce dedicated to solar energy in the southern states.
Figure: U.S. Southern states workforce on solar projects (source: US DOE).
Factors Driving Solar Growth in the South
Solar panels operate effectively in the hot and sunny atmosphere in the south, making southern states ripe for solar. The three most prominent sunniest states contain huge desert landscapes providing plenty of natural sunlight. The lack of moistness and water makes it hard for raindrops and clouds to form, causing arid surroundings and plenty of sunlight.
Table: The 10 sunniest southern states for solar energy (source).
|State||Solar energy (kJ/m^2)|
Southern states are mainly influenced by robust government regulations like the Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC), which significantly drops prices and a growing need for sustainable power throughout the commercial and government sectors.
The average price for a PV module has plummeted by about 90% over the previous decade globally. Other product costs have also dropped dramatically since 2011, lowering the LCOE (Levelized Cost of Electricity) for household and utility-scale solar power production.
Figure: The average cost of a photovoltaic cell in USD/watt (source: SEIA).
Powering Southern businesses with the sun
As solar prices fall, more household and commercial customers opt for rooftop solar panels to minimize their energy expenses and delays in power recovery. Additionally, decreased panel prices facilitate huge-scale power project managers to negotiate Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) with customers at a lower price.
Future: The percentage of solar PV commercial installations in southern states (source: NREL).
The most efficient and readily accessible photovoltaic cells have as much as 22.8% efficiencies, although most have effectiveness ratings varying from 16% to 18%.
Challenges and the road ahead
Many common threats and myths about the unreliability of solar power systems are widely heard in southern states. Despite illegitimate claims that clean energy is unreliable, the opposite is true; here are some of those challenges and the realities.
Renewable energy, particularly solar, offers immense stabilizing effects and helps to benefit communities. With the assurance of Solar Insure’s 30-Year Monitoring and Warranty, homeowners can confidently invest in solar. Should any issues arise with the solar manufacturer or installer, Solar Insure steps in, covering parts and labor for the system’s most critical components. This assurance guides homeowners in selecting the most reliable equipment brands and connects them with the best local Solar Insure Certified Installers.
In the South, the political landscape and the absence of net metering mandates present both a challenge and an opportunity. The need for more supportive policies can hinder the growth of solar energy, making it difficult for individuals to reap the full benefits of their solar investments.
However, this challenge also allows policymakers to enact legislation that truly backs the people, fostering a more sustainable and inclusive energy future.
There are also misconceptions about solar cell toxicity. The predominant type of photovoltaic cells, crystalline silicon, is an inert and harmless material, constituting 95 percent of the solar market. As the southern states ride the wave of a clean energy revolution, solar energy is set to be a central player. Building on two decades of progress, there’s immense potential to further the nation’s solar innovation and adoption achievements.
As the dawn of a sustainable future emerges, the southern states stand at a pivotal juncture. The challenges posed by the political landscape and misconceptions about solar technology are not insurmountable barriers but catalysts for change. By embracing the untapped potential of solar energy and advocating for robust, people-centric policies, the region can lead the U.S. in a clean energy renaissance.