The United States installed 3.6 gigawatts of photovoltaic solar capacity in the first quarter of this year to reach a total installed capacity of 81.4 GW. That is enough to power about 16 million American homes. More than 2/3 of that capacity has been installed during the past five years.
There has been a boom in solar installations in recent years and, until the Covid-19 pandemic stuck, 2020 was expected to be the biggest year yet. Now the unprecedented health, social, and economic conditions in our country creates great uncertainty in such forecasts.
Nevertheless, the opportunities for growth in solar power continue to be substantial. A new report from the energy research firm Wood Mackenzie looked at the prospects for using the roof space of commercial buildings for solar power.
Currently, just 3.5% of commercial buildings in the U.S. have solar panels on their roofs. Another 1% of those buildings are attached to solar projects located off-site. The report looked at how many buildings are potential targets for solar projects.
After accounting for buildings that are too small or that use too little electricity to make solar power a worthwhile investment, the report estimated that 70% of commercial buildings in the U.S. – amounting to some 600,000 sites – are candidates for solar installations. Doing this would provide 145 GW of new solar capacity, which is nearly twice as much as currently exists in this country.
Commercial solar installations have their own unique logistical and financial challenges. While utility solar can scale to lower costs and residential solar has financing opportunities, commercial solar has neither. But ultimately, it represents an important opportunity for our future energy system.
U.S. Commercial Rooftops Hold 145 Gigawatts of Untapped Solar Potential
Photo, posted June 25, 2014, courtesy of Rob Baxter via Flickr.
Earth Wise is a production of WAMC Northeast Public Radio.
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