2017 brought continued growth and innovation in solar, and the solar industry continued its trend of growth. Check out some of our top moments for solar this past year, plus a few things we’re excited to see in the year to come.
Landmarks for solar in 2017
Solar prices kept falling. Yes, we talked about this last year, too, but we can’t help highlighting that solar prices continued to fall across all sectors in 2017. The average gross cost of a solar panel installation on the EnergySage Solar Marketplace at the end of 2017 was $3.17/watt, down from $3.57/watt a year previously – a fall of about 11.2 percent year over year. Nationwide, utility-scale solar fell below $1.00 per watt and 6 cents per kilowatt-hour, which is three years ahead of schedule for the Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative cost goals.
Innovative solar products began to reach consumers. In a year of innovation and advancement in the solar sector, here are some highlights of the most impactful new products and technologies to reach consumers:
- New solar technology options emerge: Everyone has heard about Tesla’s solar roof, but many other companies also spent 2017 innovating and creating new viable solar products. This year saw the first installation of Tesla’s solar shingles, as well as the release of a solar roof option from Decotech and the launch of Forward Labs’ solar roof. In addition, companies like SunPower and Panasonic are producing even more high-efficiency panels at accessible prices for consumers. New research will continue to advance solar panel technology rapidly and reach record panel efficiencies with regularity.
- Solar batteries reach the mainstream: With help from major industry voices like Tesla’s Elon Musk championing the potential of energy storage, solar-plus-storage systems took off in 2017, due to both falling prices and a clearer value proposition. A devastating hurricane season in the southeast U.S. and Puerto Rico brought solar-plus-storage systems to the mainstream this year, leading more homeowners and business to start researching and installing solar batteries like the Tesla Powerwall and the LG Chem RESU in the face of grid unreliability and natural disasters.
- Community solar takes off: States have realized the importance of investing in solar energy, and this has lead to a rapid expansion in the number of community solar projects planned in 2017. States like Minnesota, Colorado, California, and Massachusetts are leading the way in community solar, with robust programs and high numbers of online community solar installations.
The solar trade case brings uncertainty to the market. Although the future of solar energy in the U.S. is promising, the solar trade case brought forward by Suniva and SolarWorld created a stir in the solar industry this year. The U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) acknowledged in 2017 that the U.S. solar manufacturing industry has been harmed by a flood of foreign-made panels. To the relief of the solar industry as a whole, the ITC has suggested a reduced tariff, and is sending its final recommendations to the White House in January.
While expectations surrounding the case may have introduced some uncertainty to the U.S. solar industry as a whole, the future of solar remains bright. Industry analysts suggest that residential solar will be the least affected by a tariff, if one is eventually imposed.
Looking towards 2018: what’s coming next for solar?
The solar market is maturing: Solar has proven its worth, and looking forward, expect more and more states to break solar records in 2018. Evidence of this trend is already showing as 2017 comes to a close – three states (California, Nevada, and Hawaii) sourced more than 10 percent of their electricity from solar through the first three quarters of this year.
You can also expect to see emerging solar markets gain speed in Midwestern and Southern states like Utah, Texas, and South Carolina, even as early growth markets like California and the Northeast begin to even out. In addition, states like Massachusetts and North Carolina are enhancing their solar incentive program structures in 2018 to increase solar adoption.
Even more innovative technology is on the way: Some manufacturers are already ahead of the game, but 2018 looks to be the year when certain innovative solar technologies become the new normal for the industry. For example, bifacial solar panels, which capture energy from both sides of the panel, will become more popular in 2018. Additionally, keep an eye out for more panels that come with pre-installed integrated microinverters, which makes solar installations quicker and easier for solar companies.