Written by R.E. Lord

Solar PanelsSolar power may provide 4.3% of the United States' power needs by the year 2020 according to a report put out by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

The solar energy, derived from both photovoltaic and solar thermal electricity technologies, will be available due to declining costs for equipment as well as strong support from the Federal government.  The report points out, however, that these figures are only attainable if the solar industry is able to attract $100 billion in new investments.

The United States currently has 1.4 gigawatts of solar capacity installed, putting it fifth in the world, but may be able to increase that figure to 44 gigawatts. According to the report, the "forecast capacity from large‐scale solar thermal projects is projected to rise from 0.4 gigawatts currently to 14 gigawatts by 2020. For photovoltaics, the group anticipates a 34% annual growth rate to 30 gigawatts by 2020."

A 2008 report from CleanEdge concludes similar findings, noting that by the year 2025 10% of the country's energy needs could by generated with solar power.  This report, the Utility Solar Assessment (USA) Study, also found that at that "as solar prices decline and the capital and fuel costs for coal, natural gas, and nuclear plants rise, the U.S. will reach a crossover point by around 2015."

A key factor in both cases remains the active role that government incentives will continue to play in the development of the industry.  As Milo Sjardin, Bloomberg New Energy Finance's US head of research, says, “Policy, rather than sunshine, will remain the US’s greatest solar resource for the next few years.  By the middle of this decade, however, the US retail solar market will be driven by fundamental, unsubsidized competition, which should transform the US into one of the world’s most dynamic solar markets.”

Photo Credit: david.nikonvscanon at flickr