A Decade in Solar Power
It's incredible to think how far the solar industry has come in the last decade. When I started with Innovative Power Systems out of college in January of 2007 I was a bit naive to think that everyone should spend massive amounts of money to install solar panels. At that time in Minnesota, with more than a 16-year ROI, it really was more ideology than fiduciary. But I'll always remember my first projects, most were small 2-panel solar hot water systems. Today we install 20,000-panel solar farms; it's pretty remarkable.
The biggest contributing factor to the recent worldwide solar explosion has been falling PV prices. You can toss good policy into the conversation as well (see Minnesota's 2013 Solar Jobs Act and the Community Solar Gardens program as an example) but without huge reductions in costs our industry was destined to play in a boutique sandbox. Below is a brief history of where I've seen pricing over these past ten years, with 2017 prices projected to be in the mid to low $.50 range for multi-megawatt orders.
There are a lot of reasons behind these cost reductions - globalism, unfair trade, the doubling of manufacturing capacity every other year, etc. - but the result has been the advent of a new energy era, at the speed and scale previously unseen. One of my favorite stats is that it took the US over four decades to hit 1% PV penetration, and just a few years to hit 2%.
It seemed like a purely ideological purchase in 2007 but without those folks taking a leap of faith and investing in their conscious we wouldn't have established the foundational building blocks necessary to take the next step. Now we're installing projects for large municipalities and fortune 500 companies because it makes economic sense AND it's the right thing to do. With that type of context it's easy to be optimistic.