Solar Rising

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A road divides solar panels at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in the Mojave Desert, Nevada. Photograph: Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Those of us who live near the Kochi Airport in Kerala, India feel pretty proud of our 100% solar-powered access to the outside world; but this story tells us to expect even more in the USA soon:

US energy shakeup continues as solar capacity set to triple

Solar expected to almost triple in less than three years by 2017 as coal continues to fall, solidifying gas as country’s chief electricity source, reports Climate Central

Bobby Magill for Climate Central, part of the Guardian Environment Network

Solar power capacity in the US will have nearly tripled in size in less than three years by 2017 amid an energy shakeup that has seen natural gas solidify its position as the country’s chief source of electricity and coal power continue to fade, according to monthly data published by the US Department of Energy.

Cutting carbon dioxide emissions from electric power plants is a major part of the US strategy for tackling climate change as the country seeks to meet its obligations under the Paris climate agreement and keep global warming from exceeding more than 2C (3.6°F).

Reducing those emissions requires changing the fuels used to produce electricity, including using more natural gas and renewables than coal, historically the country’s largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change.

Renewables still make up only a fraction of the US power supply – 8% this year. That’s expected to grow to 9% next year, and the biggest driver of that growth is solar.

Solar power has been on a tear in recent years partly because of cheaper solar panels and a federal tax credit for solar installations. Congress extended the solar tax credit early this year, helping to fuel a 39% annual growth rate for solar power-producing capacity, to 27 gigawatts by next year from about 10 gigawatts in 2014, or enough to power about 3.5m homes, the data show.

“Because of pent-up demand due to uncertainty over the federal tax credit, solar had a record year in 2016,” said Doug Vine, senior energy fellow at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. “Solar capacity buildout is expected to be similar next year.”

By contrast, wind power generating capacity is expected to grow by about 8% next year after growing nearly 15.5% in 2016.

For most of the past century, coal has been king in the electric power industry. But it has begun to falter as a major energy source in the US because falling natural gas prices have encouraged electric power companies to build more gas-fired power plants.

At the same time, new mercury pollution regulations for coal-fired power plants have taken effect, renewable energy has become cheaper to produce and electric power companies have begun to gear up for the Clean Power Plan – the Obama administration’s climate policy aiming to slash carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants…

Read the whole article here.

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