Solar Rising

Solar power has been making some impressive strides in 2016. The first three quarters of this year have already seen more new installations of solar panels than the entirety of 2015. A report by GreenTech Media shows that in the third quarter (Q3) of this year alone, enough solar panels to generate 4,143 MW of electricity were installed in the United States. Q3 of 2016 has seen a 191 percent rise in installations from the same quarter last year, making it the new record holder for new solar power installations in the country.

Increased affordability could be a major driving force in the sudden boom in new installations. Priced per watt, there was a $0.14 drop between the first and third quarters. This brought total prices of residential solar power below $3.00 per watt.

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Coming for Coal

Along with solar power becoming more affordable in general, it is also approaching coal in terms of cost effectiveness. This trend is also helped along by government programs that award tax breaks for the adoption of renewable energy. A report from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) shows the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) of various means of generation.

According to the EIS, LCOE "represents the per-kilowatt hour cost (in real dollars) of building and operating a generating plant over an assumed financial life and duty cycle." For new plants set to go online in 2022 the LCOE of coal power is predicted at $139.50/kWh compared to solar photovoltaic power's $66.30/kWh.

Energy experts are predicting that coal is a fading industry that will never return to its former grandeur. We can expect to continue to see this kind of sharp growth in solar power along with other forms of clean energy generation. A new study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) suggests that 25 percent of the United States’ energy needs could be filled by rooftop solar installations alone. Immediate economic interests are finally aligning with long-term environmental concerns.

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