The American Solar Industry Had a Historic Year

The solar industry saw its biggest growth ever in 2016, and is expected to triple in size over the next five years.

America's solar industry is booming, showing its biggest growth ever in 2016, and it appears set to break additional records in the years ahead, according to a new industry report.

The solar sector nearly doubled the amount of solar power installed last year compared to 2015, GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association said in their annual analysis of the US solar sector.

Indeed, more solar power was added last year to the nation's electricity grid than any other source of energy - a milestone for the burgeoning industry. It's the latest evidence that solar, which was once considered an alternative form of energy, has arrived as a central player in America's energy portfolio.

The sector's growing scale is also steadily lowering its cost. Prices for solar are 18 percent below what they were in 2015 and 63 percent lower than five years ago.

SEIA's president and CEO Abigail Ross Hopper said it is hard to overstate the year's gains.

"Prices dropped to all-time lows, installations expanded in states across the country and job numbers soared," she said in a statement. "The bottom line is that more people are benefitting from solar now than at any point in the past, and while the market is changing, the broader trend over the next five years is going in one direction - and that's up."

While California has long led the nation in bringing new solar capacity on line, several states that might not immediately spring to mind as vanguard renewable energy markets, like Utah, Minnesota, South Carolina, and Georgia, occupied top slots.

Despite an expected drop in the amount of new solar power installations in 2017, the sector is projected to nearly triple in size over the next five years, according to projections by co-author GTM Research, a unit of Wood Mackenzie, which provides global commodities analysis.

Some of that projected slowdown comes in big renewable markets like California, where new construction is slowing following uncertainty over whether Congress would renew tax credits for investment in solar, which it eventually did.

In another indication of the industry's growth, the Solar Energy Foundation said last month that 1 in 50 jobs created in 2016 were in the solar energy sector, which employed a total of 260,000 workers, up from 90,000 a decade ago. The foundation projected the number of solar jobs to jump another 10 percent to 286,000 in 2017.

In a sign of the popularity for renewable energy tax credits, Senator Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, said last August in response to concerns that then-candidate for president Donald Trump might support rolling back federal subsidies, "If he wants to do away with it, he'll have to get a bill through Congress, and he'll do it over my dead body."

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