Solar Tribune’s Annual predictions. Spoiler Alert: 2017 Will Rock!!

Happy New Year, solar watchers! 2016 was a wild ride in both policy and market news, but despite the poo-pooing by solar naysayers, the solar industry is moving forward exponentially.

As I predicted last January, 2016 marked the 10th straight year of growth in global demand for solar. The Q4 IHS Technology PV Demand Market Tracker report of global installed PV forecasts annual installed capacity to be 77GW in 2016, and 79 GW in 2017. This is a year-on-year growth rate of 34 percent in 2016, which follows the 32 percent year-on-year growth in 2015. Will 2017 show continued growth?

For Americans, the anti-solar rhetoric of the incoming Trump administration has been cause for concern among many fans of solar in the US. In my 2016 predictions, I wrote that… “Solar policy will not be a hot-button issue in the 2016 election campaigns. Despite the strong growth in the renewable energy market, Republicans will continue to mischaracterize solar, and Democrats will be afraid to stand up to the fossil fuel industry and Wall Street. This could be bad…or it could get ugly.” I think I can safely say that I NAILED that one. But will President-elect Trump’s campaign trail solar-bashing actually have any effect on national energy policy?

As for my other 2016 predictions, you be the judge. In 2017, I think we can expect to see several trends (both positive and negative) continue, as a few new and exciting developments are just over the horizon…

The Good

Solar Storage Breakthrough

Last year, I predicted that storage would not be “ready for prime time” but would hit big in 2017. OK, I may have been overly-optimistic about the progress in 2016, but I’m going to stick with this one. Indie solar will start to look more like the future this year, with early adopters integrating Behind-The-Meter (BTM) energy storage systems and integrated electric auto battery charging.

Trump Will Embrace Solar

Donald Trump will stop hating on solar. Yes, I believe that once he is in office and is confronted with the undeniable reality of economic growth and jobs creation that is happening in the solar game, he will quietly  do a 180º on renewables. In fact, I predict that he will claim victory for new solar business by the end of his first term. He did ask Elon Musk to be his technology advisor, after all.

Solar Will Build Local Economies

Solar will continue to do great things for local economies. Local and regional electrical contractors continue to add solar installation to their portfolios of services, and it makes total sense to “buy local” when it comes to all but the most massive solar installations. Unlike big wind or natural gas plants, solar dollars stay in the local economy.

The Bad

Global Solar Growth Will Slow

Solar growth will slow in 2017. The rapid growth both in the US and around the globe will try to catch up with itself this year. To some degree, the solar industry is a victim of its own success, and it will pause to catch its breath in 2017.

Panel Prices May Go Too Low

Solar panel prices will continue to drop. Yes, I’m putting this in the “Bad” column this year. Last year I listed the same prediction as “Good”, noting that SunEdison was publically targeting $0.40 cent per watt panels by the end of 2016. The fact is, that the global spot market price for solar panels fell 2.4 per cent to an average of 36 cents a watt on December 28, according to PVinsights. Suppliers are expanding capacity and the market will slow in 2017, and it’s going to be tough for some companies to make money at those rock-bottom prices.

Tesla Will Have A Tough Year

I really hope I’m wrong on this one, but I think Tesla is going to struggle this year. Regular readers of Solar Tribune know that I’m an unapologetic Elon Musk fan-boy. However, The roll-out of the Tesla solar roof 18 months after the Powerwall storage system—while dealing with Tesla Model 3 issues—creates what is beginning to look like a backlog of not-ready-for-primetime products. On top of that, integrating SolarCity into Tesla may turn out to be a mistake, unless Musk can re-imagine SolarCity as something other than what it is now, which is a huge solar leasing and installation company in a market that is quickly abandoning that model.

The Ugly

More ALEC Anti-Solar Lobbying

Behind virtually all of the anti-solar legislative action happening in states across the country is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The organization provides utility and fossil fuel interests with access to state legislatures, and its anti-net metering policy resolution has inspired legislation in a set of states; utilities in Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Nevada, Ohio, West Virginia, and Illinois have undertaken extensive campaigns to revoke renewable energy policy or impose new charges on their solar customers. A new report documents how the Koch brothers have provided funding to the national fight against solar by funneling tens of millions of dollars through a network of opaque nonprofits, coordinated by ALEC.

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Rich Dana is a 20 year veteran of the solar industry. He is a former Energy Specialist at the National Center for Appropriate Technology, and Senior Partner at Plan B Consulting LLP.  His clients have included GoSolar, ReneSola, Bergey Windpower, The Union of Concerned Scientists, Alliant Energy and the USDOE

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