A community solar project in Minnesota. Credit: Clean Energy Resource Teams / Creative Commons
Chris Ventura is Executive Director of Consumer Energy Alliance Midwest.

Solar energy has proven that it has the power to spark a dramatic change in the way energy is generated and consumed.

It’s clean, viable, increasingly affordable, and thanks to the rising popularity of utility-scale, community projects and rooftop installations, it’s also a continuously growing part of America’s modernizing electricity mix. It’s becoming less and less expensive to install too – making it ready and able to compete with natural gas and other power sources on the open market.

Here in Minnesota, a statewide goal of 10 percent of retail electricity sales from solar by 2030 has been established.

And the surging popularity and reliability of solar isn’t going to change – provided we enact policies that thoughtfully and fairly continue to expand this all-important source of renewable energy for everyone.

The only way to do that is to make sure policymakers, utilities and consumers have all the necessary, up-to-date facts to make informed decisions about policy and investments.

That’s why we recently released a solar incentive analysis that, for the first time, quantifies solar incentives available to consumers from coast-to-coast. Each state and region we examined have, based on our observation, taken noteworthy steps toward establishing a vibrant energy future for its consumers. Due to lower costs and government-incentive programs, solar photovoltaic (PV) stands as the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. renewable energy market, achieving annual growth rates exceeding 40 percent through 2015.

Our findings also show that government incentives, paired with utility-offered consumer incentives, have steadily reduced residential customers’ net costs for installing solar PV systems to record-low levels. This has led to record increases in the use of solar.

These reductions are now so significant that total incentives, in many states, are greater than the system’s total costs. In fact, the actual cost of residential rooftop solar PV systems is roughly twice that of utility-scale solar, with total residential rooftop solar PV system incentives at approximately four times that of utility-scale solar.

That’s nationwide.

A typical single 6,000-watt rooftop solar system in Minnesota receives $19,036 in taxpayer and net-metering incentives, or about $3.17 in incentives per watt, representing 91% of the actual cost of the system.

These dramatic cost reductions have caused many states – Minnesota included – to reexamine the scope and methods surrounding these incentives. Many are now considering programs that rely more on a competitive marketplace to provide the economically optimal levels of solar PV adoption.

This makes sense. One of the key drivers in states’ assessments is the cost of energy produced by residential solar PV installations compared with the much lower cost of energy produced by utility-scale solar projects. The more data we have on this, the better.

With solar energy continuing to progress as a larger slice of America’s all-of-the-above energy pie, these findings will hopefully yield future policies that ensure the proliferation of solar technology, a robust electric grid, and increased and continued access to clean, affordable, and reliable energy sources for all American consumers.

Such policies would certainly continue to be pro-solar, pro-grid and pro-consumer – for everyone.

Chris Ventura is Executive Director of Consumer Energy Alliance Midwest.

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