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  • Annamarie Simoldoni & Tarryn Nichols

US surpasses 5 million solar installations, report says

Solar Energy Industries Association releases state of solar assessment

In a state where eggs could fry on the sidewalks in summer, less than 7% of Florida’s energy comes from solar power. Yet the United States has exceeded five million solar installations, according to a recently published report by the Solar Energy Industries Association. In the next six years, the number of installations nationwide is expected to double.


Solar potential varies by site in Florida. An Environment America report ranked Jacksonville No. 19 in the nation’s best solar cities for its abundance of sunshine –– boasting 1,800 peak sun hours a year.


Tampa made the list at No. 29 and Orlando at No. 32.


The state’s capital, Tallahassee, was dubbed a “Solar Star” by the research and policy center after completing a second solar farm at the Tallahassee International Airport and being the first city in Florida to power 100% of city buildings with solar energy.


“As the capital city of the Sunshine State, we are dedicated to preserving our community’s natural resources,” Tallahassee Mayor John Dailey is quoted on the city’s website. He was speaking about a record-breaking 62-megawatt solar facility outside the city’s airport. “Utilization of our airport property for the solar farm is part of our innovative approach toward reaching our goal of 100% net clean, renewable energy by 2050.”


Solar Power in the Sunshine State


At the start of 2023, Florida outpaced all other states in terms of residential solar panel installations, according to Environment America. There are more than 235,000 installations today, compared to 22,000 in 2017.


The U.S. ignited solar energy with the invention of silicon solar cells in the 1950s, only to be outdone by international competitors. Since then, solar power has progressed at a slow crawl, with a mere 2 million installations reported in the U.S. between 2010 and 2020.


By 2030, the Solar Energy Industries Association expects 22 states to exceed 100,000 solar installations. The number of solar installations nationwide could cover every residential rooftop in the four corners states of Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, the Association reported.


The rise (and shine) of solar


Solar power systems create a more resilient electrical grid by storing backup power for nighttime and outages. The wider use of solar energy will decrease the need for fossil fuels, advocates say. Solar energy is a renewable energy source and does not create carbon emissions.


Yet solar power comes with environmental and financial costs. There is still a significant — while diminishing upfront expense associated with solar power installation. A residential solar system is estimated to cost $20,000. While costs have fallen in recent years, persuading American families to shell out the equivalent of a used car for solar is a tough ask.


Solar panels contain hazardous materials that complicate the solar panel disposal process. Solar projects will generate 78 million tons of waste by 2050 if proper recycling practices are not followed, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency.


Solar panels also require a substantial amount of land to be effective. The International Energy Forum references estimates suggesting that 0.8% of all US land must be dedicated to solar power plants to generate enough energy to support its population.


Solar energy can benefit homeowners by reducing energy bills and in some cases, residential solar systems generate more energy than can be used by the household. This excess energy can be sold to utility companies through net metering.


Net metering has spurred the growth of solar energy by cutting electricity costs for solar panel owners and helping them recoup installation fees. But controversy abounds –– public utilities organizations criticize net-metering policies for being too generous and shrinking the financial pool needed to maintain electrical grids.


Weathering the Political Climate


Climate change will exacerbate the intensity of heavy rainstorms and heat waves, which increase the amount of water vapor in the air. These changes could negatively affect solar power output in the future, but they do underscore the need for a greater reliance on renewable energy.


Compared to other solar-rich states, Florida also has a difficult policy landscape preventing solar investments from gaining momentum. The state lacks a renewable energy standard (RES), which requires utility companies to renewably source part of the energy they generate or sell. Florida policy also doesn’t allow power-purchase agreements which could establish solar as an affordable energy option –– it is one of only four states that prohibit residents from buying electricity from any third party other than a utility company.


Gov. Ron DeSantis recently signed a bill (HB 1645), which included nixing wind as a renewable energy source in Florida, according to the Washington Post.


This measure combats public opinion, since a majority of Floridians recognize the impact of climate change and support state action to address it, according to a recent survey by Florida Atlantic University. Many organizations advocating for environmentalism have spoken out against the new law, such as the Miami-based CLEO institute, a climate activism nonprofit that supports clean energy.


CLEO policy director Raymer Maguire told the Post, “It feels like we’ve taken a major step backward and are no longer recognizing the dangers of greenhouse gasses."

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