Solar energy is here to stay, but the solar energy industry remains as complicated as ever. Investors need to know their basic solar stats to tell the stocks that could soar from those that could stumble.
Here are seven stats about solar energy that will blow you away.
1. North Carolina is constructing more utility-scale solar than California
It's true. While California was the undeniable first mover and front runner on solar power, its solar energy growth has hit a plateau as other states have soared. According to SNL Energy, North Carolina has almost 4,000 MW of utility-scale solar power under development, compared to 3,700 MW in California. While the Tarheel state is sunny, it's regulation that has really revved things up -- by 2021, utilities will be required to pull 12.5% of their power from renewable sources. Duke Energy Corporation (NYSE:DUK), North Carolina's largest utility, has 13 solar farms in the state, and is about to build its biggest yet (40 MW) with the help of California-based manufacturer First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR).
2. Solar subsidies are set to subside
The federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) has been a major boon to solar growth, allowing commercial installers to write off 30% of their total investment costs. The credit is currently set to expire at the end of 2016, however, and no one's sure whether Congress will renew it. The impending deadline is causing a surge in solar installations, which many analysts believe will be followed by a major dropoff in the years that follow. In First Solar's latest annual report, the company stated that:
Reduced growth in or the reduction, elimination, or expiration of ... economic incentives ... could reduce demand and/or price levels for our solar modules, and limit our growth or lead to a reduction in our net sales, and adversely impact our operating results.
3. New energy = solar
In the first half of 2015, 40% of all new electricity generating capacity came from solar. For 2015, overall, the Solar Energy Industries Association expects photovoltaic (PV) installations to hit 7,700 MW, around 25% above 2014 installation numbers. Those are huge numbers, considering that solar energy still accounts for just 0.4% of our nation's total electricity generation.
4. Prices are plummeting
In the energy economy, bottom lines matter more than any environmental aspirations. Solar technology has made significant strides in the past few years, becoming increasingly price competitive with other fuels. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, average installed PV system prices fell 6% from 2013 to 2014, and have dropped around 53% from 2010 to 2014. Utility-scale systems, in particular, have enjoyed great success reaching cost parity. First Solar claims that its own modules are on par with coal, nuclear, and natural gas combined cycle plants in the United States.
5. Rooftop solar is the fastest growth there is
Utility-scale solar projects are grabbing a lot of attention with their cheap costs and supersized projects. First Solar alone has installed more than 10,000 MW worth of major projects worldwide. But 2014 marked a record year for residential solar as well. In 2014, residential installations broke the 1,000 MW mark, hitting 1,200 MW of rooftop solar systems. It's enjoyed greater than 50% annual growth for the past three years, and is ramping up faster than either utility-scale or commercial solar energy.
6. California's solar count is ridiculous
According to the latest estimates, there are 291,513 solar panel systems in California. That's about one system for every 130 people. In second place, Arizona's count clocks in at 49,498, equivalent to a measly 17% of California's. And with less than 10 total counted panels, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, and North Dakota bring up our nation's renewable energy rear.
7. Solar is cheapest in Maine
While California is leading the way in capacity, it's 32nd when it comes to average cost per watt. At $4.16 per watt, Maine is home to the cheapest solar installations in the states. But with only 700 modules generating 7 MW of capacity, that price point hasn't convinced many Mainers. For states with more than 100 MW installed, Texas is the most affordable at $5.38 per watt. And for the priciest panels around, head to South Carolina, where residents currently pay an average of $9.27 per watt.