Solar installations are soaring in the U.S., almost doubling in 2016—and new tax incentives mean that wind power may also see a surge by 2020.
Figures published by the Solar Energy Industries Association show that 14,626 megawatts worth of photovoltaic installations went online in 2016. That’s up from 7,493 megawatts of capacity that were added in 2015—a 95 percent increase year-on-year.
In fact, a new report written by Bloomberg New Energy Finance for the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, an industry group, shows that solar accounts for much of the growth in low-carbon energy production over the past few years. New wind capacity, meanwhile, arrived in the same quantity in 2016 as it did in 2015.
The same report notes that a set of tax credits were made available for wind power projects at the end of 2015 for projects that start construction by 2019. That means that there should be a surge in wind installations in the coming years, predicted to peak in 2020, according to BNEF.
It’s worth noting that capacity alone isn’t necessarily that useful. Without the right supporting grid infrastructure to carry generated power to users, the capacity to convert sunlight or wind into electricity is wasted. Texas is a prime example of how the correct grid technology can facilitate the growth of renewables, but many regions can’t afford the billions of dollars required to make it happen at such scale.
Still, that problem can be surmounted, and the overall trend in installations is overwhelmingly upward. Since 2008, combined capacity of solar and wind in the U.S. has risen from 26 gigawatts to 123 gigawatts.
Such strong momentum will be useful in the coming years, given the Trump administration’s disdain for renewables—though it by no means guarantees that the trend will last. If the White House chooses to abandon tax credits for renewables, it could make clean-energy installations less attractive to investors.
Not everyone is pessimistic, though. Barack Obama has argued that the world’s transition to a renewable energy future is by this point “irreversible.” Let’s hope he’s right.
Photograph by Scott Olson | Getty