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NREL Project Shows Solar Installations Over Time: Underlines Role of State Incentives

Posted October 4th, 2012 by SRECTrade.

At SRECTrade we spend most of our time thinking about SRECs and how to effectively manage their creation and sale. We deal with a relatively abstract concept and are sometimes left wondering after a particularly long day of answering client questions and crunching data sets, what all of this stuff means on the ground. That’s why we really like the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL) Open PV  Project, in particular the Solar PV Installations Over Time graphic that they’ve produced.

NREL shows PV installations from 2000 to 2012 by intensity (presumably driven by capacity installed) and location. The visualization is fascinating because it can be read as a story about the growth of the US solar industry over the last decade from both a policy and resource perspective.

Solar is concentrated around population centers where it’s needed most
The distributed, non-centralized aspects of solar are much discussed.  Solar can be deployed right at the load on a home or business without the adverse environmental impact of doing the same thing with say a coal-fired power plant. The NREL visualization proves the distributed nature of solar  in practice at a national level. Over time it appears that solar installations are predominantly clustered in zones that mimic areas of high population. This is evidenced in the early years where most solar capacity is installed in California around the high-density populations zones of the Bay Area and southern California cities. For rough comparison see the map of solar installed as of 2012 relative to the population density map below.


Source:, “2000 Population Distribution in the United States”

Source:, “Solar Installations Over Time”

Solar deployment is driven by state-level policies
Solar deployment can also be tied to both federal and state-level energy policies that were enacted over the last decade (Energy Policy Act of 2005, the Federal 1603 Grant, California Solar Initiative, and SREC markets among myriad others) but the deployment seems to concentrate in some areas over others, suggesting that local and state factors outweigh the current federal incentive structure.  Viewing the NREL visualization it looks like solar installation activity from 2000 to 2004 is predominantly in California  with flashes of activity in Florida, the Rocky Mountain West,  Minnesota/ Wisconsin, and  the Tennessee Valley Authority region. By 2007 solar installations appear to be widespread around major population centers around the country.  The mid-Atlantic and the northeast states appear to explode as their SREC markets come on line in the mid-2000s, while other areas seem to slow down.

As an SREC company we know that each SREC market, dictated by the state policies that created the program, is different from the next. So perhaps not surprisingly we get phone calls and emails on a daily basis asking us about opportunities in states without a comprehensive solar policy such as an SREC program. Our stock answer to suggest that stakeholders reach out to their state legislatures and engage with grassroots activist groups like the Vote Solar Initiative. SREC markets are by no means perfect, but they are a key tool for states to drive solar development in the absence of a national standard. The evidence is in the results. The end of the NREL visualization shows the SREC market states (DC, DE, MA, MD, NJ, OH and PA) covered in solar.