Devilish Details

Robert Ukeiley

American Solar Energy Society

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In her editor’s letter in the November/December 2014 issue, Maureen McIntyre states that solar accounts for only 0.2% of the electricity generated in the United States, which makes solar seem irrelevant. That is based on data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) for 2013 and even then it was 0.22%.

Solar is experiencing explosive growth, and the latest EIA numbers put solar electricity at 0.46% ( EIA’s number is a significant underestimate for a number of reasons, however.

One is that it only includes data through October 2014, and there was a lot of new solar added in the fourth quarter of 2014. Two, EIA’s numbers generally don’t report systems smaller than 1 megawatt, which excludes the many small photovoltaic (PV) installations. Three, EIA also excludes data at the state level when there is a “large standard error.” Large standard errors are common when tracking solar because of its explosive growth, and the result is that EIA did not include Minnesota, Missouri, South Carolina, and Utah in the 0.46% number.

Fourth—and perhaps most important—the EIA numbers are only for systems attached to the utility side of the meter. EIA does not report net metered PV, which is a significant oversight.

Taking all these factors into consideration, I think it is fair to say that in January 2015, we generate about 1% of our electricity from solar based on a 12 month rolling average. Next year, we should be able to say about 2%.

Robert Ukeiley

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