The US solar and clean energy industry is in a bit of a pickle.
While the US has been building a huge amount of new solar and solar-generated wind power over the past few years, the industry has yet to achieve widespread deployment of the technology in a variety of commercial and residential locations, such as in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Nevada.
As a result, the US will likely need to build up a massive fleet of these new solar panels in order to get off the ground.
The problem is, that fleet has yet.
And now, that infrastructure has begun to break down.
“There are a lot of challenges,” says Brian Shaffer, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein, a global real estate research firm.
“The challenge is the grid has to be able to absorb all of the incoming solar and all of that new wind.
And they don’t have the infrastructure in place to do that.
The grid is getting better, but it’s getting more complex and more expensive, which is holding back deployment.”
Shaffer says that there’s still room for a huge increase in the US solar industry, but the US isn’t quite there yet.
“If you look at solar over the last five years, I think we’ve got about 25 gigawatts of capacity.
But we’re only in the last 10 or 15 years that we’ve actually been able to get 100 gigawatts in the system,” he says.
Shaffer says he expects the US to have a fleet of over 100 GW of solar capacity by 2020.
And this won’t be a new problem.
The US has long relied on a mix of natural gas-fired and coal-fired generation.
But these sources of power have become less competitive in recent years as more and more countries switch to renewable energy sources, including natural gas and wind.
That’s why solar and other renewables, especially wind, are now the dominant form of energy.
But while that could happen faster in the future, Shaffer warns that the cost of building new generation is likely to be a problem in the long run.
“There is a lot going on right now that we’re still figuring out.
We have a lot more to learn, a lot to do,” he said.
“And I think the real challenge, the real bottleneck right now is not just solar but nuclear.”
Shafer says that the industry is trying to build out an infrastructure to deal with the intermittency issues, but that will likely take decades to happen.
“You don’t want to build this infrastructure when you’re still not quite there,” he told Recode.
For now, Shafer believes the US is well-positioned for a big growth phase.
“What I’m seeing right now in the industry and in the market is the ability to ramp up, but I think you’re also going to see a lot less of that intermittency and a lot fewer of those costs,” he added.
As of the end of the first quarter of 2020, the solar industry was valued at $7.4 trillion.
That was up 13 percent from the same period a year ago.
This article originally appeared on Recode here