(NaturalNews) One hundred percent of the new electric generating capacity added to the US power grid in March came from solar power, according to a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) report.
The report notes that a total of 44 MW of capacity were added from a total of seven projects in Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, New Jersey and North Carolina.
Notably, the FERC report tracks only utility-scale solar power, which is designed to be distributed through the power grid by utility companies much like traditionally sourced power. The report does not include rooftop systems for individual homes and businesses ("distributed capacity").
Business is booming, companies say
According to solar industry representatives, the FERC report reflects a boom in utility-scale solar installation driven largely by new technological advances that have led to much lower costs for both equipment and installation.
According to Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, installation and equipment costs for large solar installations have dropped almost 40 percent over the past two years. These drops in cost have emboldened tech developers, who are now working on projects to enable large solar installations to provide steady sources of power even during darkness or cloudy weather.
According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the amount of solar energy being consumed in the United States has increased more than 600 percent since 2008, including both utility-scale and distributed sources. The year 2012 saw more solar capacity installed than the previous three years put together.
In fact, even solar's historic March achievement was mild compared with recent months; in January and February combined, a total of 496 MW were installed, compared with just 44 MW last month. In 2012, an average of 146 MW of new solar capacity were installed every month. And when the first three months of 2013 are looked at together, solar power accounted for approximately 30 percent of utility-scale capacity added to the US grid.
"Again, this doesn't account for distributed solar," wrote Travis Hoium at The Motley Fool. "So it's possible that solar accounted for around 50 percent of total electricity capacity added so far in 2013."
It is these consistently high figures that have caused the industry to project that solar power will become the number one source of new energy in the United States within the next four years.
"These new numbers from FERC support our forecast that solar will continue a pattern of growth in 2013," Resch said.
"Distributed" solar even more promising
But many commentators noted that the focus on the FERC report may be distracting attention from the type of solar energy most likely to show sustained growth: distributed, rooftop solar.
Indeed, the utility-scale solar projects currently being built were all contracted several years ago, and few new projects have been developed since then. Yet rooftop installation continues to grow in popularity, driven in part by falling costs and the prospect of independence from utility companies.
The average home rooftop solar electric system still costs about $30,000 up front, but new rebate and financing options continue to flourish. Some companies, such as Sunrun and SolarCity, are even offering options where they will own, maintain and ensure the panels, in order to cut out the upfront consumer costs.
"It's distributed solar - also known as 'behind the meter' or 'end user' solar - that has the utilities fearing for their livelihoods," wrote Pete Danko at Earth Techling, "because when you and I and businesses power our own homes and buildings, and when we send power to the grid that the utilities have to pay retails rates for, it means less money for them to cover their fixed costs (and pay returns to stockholders)."