Rows of solar modules generate electricity at UL-Lafayette’s Photovoltaic Applied Research and Testing (PART) Lab on Aug. 9, 2021. (Wes Muller/Louisiana Illuminator)
Louisiana will soon mark the seventh annual National Clean Energy Week. While the state’s renewable power industry is slightly behind that of most other states, it is forecast to accelerate significantly over the coming years.
According to a press release Thursday, Gov. John Bel Edwards issued a proclamation declaring Sept. 25-29 as Clean Energy Week in Louisiana in conjunction with the national celebration.
By most statistical categories, the celebration is warranted. Clean energy, or more specifically, renewable energy, has exploded in growth across the United States.
In its category of “clean energy,” the National Clean Energy Week organization includes natural gas, hydrogen, biomass and propane even though those sources emit greenhouse gases and rely mostly on finite resources. “Renewable energy,” on the other hand, is more narrowly limited to solar, wind, hydropower and geothermal energy, which emit no pollution and rely on resources that are virtually infinite, like sunlight.
Solar energy has seen huge expansions nationwide, according to the Solar Energy Industry Association. Utility-scale solar installations have increased 15-fold since 2013 in terms of generation capacity, from 6,626 megawatts to 98,907 megawatts in 2023. Residential installations have also increased at a similar rate, from 2,233 megawatts 10 years ago to 32,749 megawatts this year.
The solar industry workforce has grown roughly 85% over the last decade with more than 263,000 Americans employed at more than 10,000 companies across every state, according to the SEIA.
The growth is, in large part, the result of falling prices of solar modules and components across the globe, as well as incentives from President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act.
The average-sized residential solar system has dropped from a pre-incentive price of $40,000 in 2010 to roughly $25,000 today.
Shipping and supply chain constraints that caused a spike in solar equipment prices during the coronavirus pandemic have begun to ease. The Biden administration’s moratorium on solar tariffs have helped flatten prices this year, according to the SEIA.
California has long dominated the U.S. solar market, but other states are catching up. Texas, Florida and New York have each seen a rapid expansion of solar installations.
Though late to the game, Louisiana has begun to grow its renewable power industry and is projected to accelerate that growth in the coming years. Louisiana currently has about 311 megawatts of solar power generating capacity, compared to virtually zero a decade ago.
The state also has several new utility-scale solar installations currently under construction, including a 300-megawatt solar plant in Pointe Coupee Parish and a 200-megawatt plant in Morehouse Parish, both of which are expected to be completed this year.
While much of the focus has been on solar, wind has also seen significant expansions amid the renewable power boom. The amount of wind generation has nearly tripled nationwide since 2012, according to the Environment America Research and Policy Center.
Several new offshore wind projects are under development. Biden’s goal of developing 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030 is expected to fall short due to delays and instead result in about 23 gigawatts. Still, the sector was nonexistent in the U.S. just a few years ago.
Simon Mahan, executive director of the Southern Renewable Energy Association, said Louisiana has been importing cheap wind-generated electricity from other states over the past few years.
The transportation sector has also seen explosive growth with clean energy technologies. The number of plug-in electric vehicles increased nearly 13 fold, and the number of charging stations across the country increased by a multiple of nearly 20 since 2012, according to the SEIA.
Louisiana’s solar energy sector is ranked 38th in size, but the SEIA projects the state will add over 3,000 megawatts of solar over the next five years and improve its ranking to 19th.
“Clean energy is a vital and growing part of Louisiana’s economy, and Louisiana is proud to join all our partners and stakeholders throughout the state in recognizing and highlighting the importance of clean energy to Louisiana’s future,” the governor said in his proclamation. “Louisiana’s solar power sector is growing with utility-scale solar power generation in 2022 being five times larger than it was in 2020, and the clean energy sector providing more than 31,000 jobs in Louisiana in 2022.”
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