Clean Power

Published on December 3rd, 2013 | by Nicholas Brown


83% Increase In US Solar PV Capacity In 2012

December 3rd, 2013 by  

According to a data book from the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), solar PV generation capacity increased by 83% across the United States in 2012.

The study was compiled on behalf of the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy as part of an annual effort to monitor and promote renewable energy utilization. So far, the effort has shown rapid renewable energy growth, especially wind and solar, but solar exceeded wind even three-fold. (However, it’s worth noting that solar PV started at a much lower capacity level.)

The research also showed that renewable energy accounted for 14% of all electricity generation capacity at the end of 2012, and more than 12% of all electricity generated in that period.

SunEdison technician at ABB solar power plant in Nevada.

ABB solar power plant in Nevada, with a fellow Jamaican who is a technician there.
Credit: Zachary Shahan / CleanTechnica (free to republish under a CC BY-SA license as long as credit is provided and the links are not removed)

But there’s even more good news. In 2012, renewable energy accounted for 56% of all new electricity generation capacity, that is a very sharp increase from the 2% that it was at back in 2004!

This statistic is particularly useful because it shows how the transition from traditional energy sources to renewable ones is progressing. This shows that the renewable energy industry is no longer just lagging behind the fossil fuel one and only growing due to the country’s population growth, but it is exploding, and it will over at some point.

Renewable energy has been “on its way” for a long time, and now it finally is.

“The Renewable Energy Data Book is filled with information-packed charts and graphics, which allows users, from analysts to policymakers, to quickly understand and summarize trends in renewable energy – both on a U.S. and a global scale,” said NREL energy analyst Rachel Gelman.

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About the Author

writes on CleanTechnica, Gas2, Kleef&Co, and Green Building Elements. He has a keen interest in physics-intensive topics such as electricity generation, refrigeration and air conditioning technology, energy storage, and geography. His website is:

  • JamesWimberley

    It’s sad that in the photo, the desert sand under the solar panels has been scrubbed as clean of life as a WalMart parking lot. This should not be necessary. Natural deserts are not lifeless but valuable and fragile ecosystems. Solar developers should try to keep as much vegetation as possible, avoid compacting the soil, and encourage small wildlife (which will appreciate the shade) by appropriate fencing.

    • Steeple

      What would be considered appropriate fencing?

      • Matt

        Raise the bottom 6 inches, that way little guys can go under. People would still need to climb. If using a tracker to keep it tight it is as easy, really easier, than doing it on the ground. Unless they are using 8-10 tall fence with round poles, then it is extra work.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Desert tortoises are burying animals.

          Let them get back in, they will dig into the roadways and service vehicles will crush them.

          We’re talking tiny, tiny, tiny portions of the desert. We’d do a lot more for desert ecosystems by cutting down on off road vehicles and cattle grazing.

          • Peter Gray

            Which animals are the tortoises burying, and should we ask them to stop? ( 🙂 )

            I agree that the portions of desert are tiny now, but it’s worth thinking about how much land solar would occupy if it replaced fossil and nuclear. Using output/km^2 for the latest, largest plant in CA (Topaz); displacing all of our current fossil and nuke generation would take ~88,000 sq-km, or 31% of Nevada. Pretty big chunk of real estate, before we even consider transportation energy. Spread over 7 or 8 states with desert, each might devote 5% of its land to solar farms.

            Would that be worth it, to phase out fossil and nuclear? As someone who grew up in that desert and has a lot of affection for it, I think so.

            Of course, that’s kind of a worst-case scenario, leaving out wind, biofuels, geothermal, and rooftop solar.

            What’s the potential for rooftop? I wouldn’t know how to realistically estimate it, but here’s a fun experiment: jump on Google Earth and head over to Freiberg, Germany, described in some recent articles as the most green and solar (and sunniest) city in the most solar-intensive nation on Earth. I expected to see PV on almost all flat or south-facing roofs. But with an eyeball count, it’s less than 10% – much less in the whole city, and maybe barely 10% in the most solarific district of Vauban. Rooftops should offer a huge non-tortoise-threat potential.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Honestly, I expect utility scale solar to grow little going forward. As rooftop (residential and commercial) costs drop all the solar we can use will come from rooftops.

            This is what has happened in Germany.

            But if we were to install a lot of desert solar – let’s get some perspective…

            Covering more than 25 million acres — about a fourth of California — the geologically diverse California Desert Conservation Area includes sand dunes, canyons, dry lakes, 90 mountain ranges, and 65 wilderness areas. This huge expanse of land is also home to numerous imperiled species, including the threatened desert tortoise, the endangered Peninsular bighorn sheep, the cushenberry buckwheat, and many other rare plants and animals adapted to live in harsh desert environments. Congress designated the area in 1976, and the 1994 California Desert Protection Act further increased protection by setting aside as wilderness 3.5 million of its acres, turning the Death Valley and Joshua Tree national monuments into national parks and establishing the 1.6-million-acre Mojave National Preserve.


            That’s just the CA desert, actually, just part of the CA desert. 4.5 million acres of it are used for grazing Over 7,000 square miles.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Easier to spot the rattlesnakes….

    • Aaron Russell

      Priorities bud

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