The Politics of Solar Power


Bill Powers, of Solar Done Right, tells Business Week in a timely article about the political hitches holding solar back in the U.S., that “economically and technologically, the game is over. The hang-ups in the U.S. are strictly political,” he said. Oil and gas still dominate the agenda of the political debate and alternative energy is treated with a certain indifference.

Yet, the market tells a different a story. Prices have fallen and the cost per watt for residential buildings has fallen from $9 per unit in 2006 to the current $5.46. The average commercial industrial installation price is even lower at $3.45 per watt. In some regions, payback for upfront investment is four to five years and lease schemes are widely available.

The media is always reporting on some revealing stories about solar power, such as this article about New York being the next great solar market, with focus on one particular company called OnForce Solar, based in the Bronx.

Back in May, OnForce’s CEO Charles Feit was named one of Crain’s New York Business’ “Top Entrepreneurs of 2012″. Among the criteria for selection was creativity and innovation. “OnForce has demonstrated these qualities consistently during the past five years, even during difficult market conditions,” Elaine Pofeldt, a contributing editor at Crain’s, said at the time. “It’s been a challenging period in the solar energy field, and under Feit’s leadership, OnForce has thrived nonetheless.”

The Solar Energy Industry Association says that over the last year around 52,000 residential rooftop systems were installed in the U.S. last year, 30 percent more than the previous year. Between 2010 and 2011, there was a growth of 109 percent for rooftop installations, including commercial buildings.

Great ideas abound. For example, the city of Brea in California turned to a type of financing that has become popular amongst government agencies. It is an energy-savings performance contract that requires no upfront costs and allows the city to pay for the project over time using the savings on utility bills. Called Pay-if-You-Save, it offers an attractive, imaginative solution. Brea installed high-efficiency lighting systems in 14 city buildings and 4,000 street lamps, updating heating and cooling systems at six buildings and installed 1.8 megawatts of solar panels at three sites.

The solar power revolution is taking place, thanks to the industry’s ingenuity, creativity and public support. Now we need politicians and government to get more seriously on board.

Article by Antonio Pasolini, a Brazilian writer and video art curator based in London, UK. He holds a BA in journalism and an MA in film and television.

About Author

Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.


  1. Jeffrey L. Allen on

    David is wrong. Not only wrong, but based on almost a completely inaccurate premise. That makes it embarrassingly wrong and, I’m sorry to say, it appears as pointedly political when it could and should have been informative.

    The Solyndra business plan and application for governmental incentives/inducements originated and were originally presented to, reviewed and approved by the prior administration (Bush 43). The article neglects not only to identify the actual Solyndra timeline, but mis-associates the project to only one administration Obama (#44), and to only one set of political/policy market conditions (the post 9/2008 economic collapse). Cleantech deserves better than that.

    David had an opportunity to address one of the more challenging tasks presented to the private sector when doing business with governmental institutions; that such relationships must often span multiple administrations with varying political and policy objectives and with different agency administrators that are almost always replaced when Presidential administrations change. Most agency personnel occupy merit based positions and remain with the agencies regardless of who occupies the White House, but agency directors typically occupy patronage positions; they’re appointed by the President/his or her cabinet members.

    Finally, the article implies a virtual impossibility for the private sector to efficiently serve government and for government to efficiently procure goods and services from the private sector. Not only is that patently false, there are hundreds of years of data and trillions of dollars of contracts proving it to be patently false. Halliburton, Raytheon, Boeing, Honeywell and their stockholders (to name a select few) take great exception to any suggestion that the private and the pubic sectors are somehow incompatible simply because government has a reasonable expectation of a return on the investment it makes when for the benefit of our nation it purchases goods and services from the private sector.

    Setting aside for a moment the apparent politically motivated rant that screams from between the words of the article, it seems we should acknowledge that as early as kindergarten we’re taught one of life’s cardinal rules; properly attribute and date our work. David’s article (as published) failed to do either. Most teachers would score that with a zero. Again, Cleantech deserves much better than an argument like Davids.

  2. Everythingsolar on

    I think issues like global warming or rising cost of energy are main concerns about pollution and consumptions. Solving these issues are going to take a lot of social action with government support.