Aggressive 10 GW Vision for Solar—Requires Strong Policies and Financing

Solar Power International 2010 (SPI 10) has 27,000 registered attendees that are eager to learn what the future holds for the solar industry.

A year ago at SPI 09, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and the Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA) energetically released the Solar Bill of Rights. Over the last year, 33,000 individuals signed onto the Bill of Rights.

This year, SEIA President Rhone Resch outlined the vision for the future of the solar industry. The most ambitious element of Resch’s vision is for the United States. to have annual solar installations of 10 GW a year by 2015. To provide context, the United States. currently installs 1 GW and Germany will install 7-8 GW this year. If the German government imposes a cap on the feed in tariff in a fashion that is similar to what occurred in Spain in 2008, German installations will likely drop to 5 GW per year and panel manufacturers will experience a significant oversupply of product.

Fortune Magazine journalist editor Mark Gunther asked members of the CEO panel if they thought the 10 GW annual installation was feasible. All panel members said “yes” but only if they were allowed to add specific caveats. Tony Clifford, CEO of Standard Solar, said “It is possible, but not at current costs. Costs have to come down and it has to be across all aspects of the value chain and not just the price of modules.”

When asked to identify the most important thing needed to drive this aggressive industry growth, Matthew Baker, Commissioner with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, suggested that we need national Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) with set-asides. Another panel member added that at the very least we need a signal for carbon pricing. The panel discussed decoupling as an example of good policy: “The existence of decoupling in California represents forward thinking that resulted in California becoming the leader in energy efficiency.” Currently only seven or eight states have some version of decoupling.

Resch outlined several other elements of SEIA’s vision for the future of solar including that by 2015:

  • Solar will become the biggest new installed energy each year.
  • There will be 220,000 direct solar jobs and 500,000 ancillary solar jobs.
  • This will result in $30 billion direct economic growth from solar.
  • Solar will surpass natural gas, wind, and coal as an energy resource.

Resch also identified the key elements necessary for the solar industry to achieve this vision.

  • Create a level playing field with respect to other energy industries, for example stop huge subsidies that support the oil industry.
  • Create new financing mechanisms (in 2010 SEIA will sponsor a solar financing summit in New York).
  • Maintain high ethics to prevent loss of consumer and regulatory trust.

Specifically Resch outlined the following call to action

  • Join SEIA and get active.
  • Support the SEIA Political Action Committee (PAC).
  • Stop Proposition 23 in California.
  • Encourage state Governors and city halls to install solar.

On behalf of The Solar Foundation, Resch announced the release of the first ever Solar Jobs Census. The report identifies that there are currently 96,000 jobs in solar industry. Job growth over the next 12 months is predicted to be 26 percent over the next year and exceeds predictions for the general economic growth. Half of all solar jobs are in the west with 36,000 in California alone. The quantity of solar jobs represents a significant proportion of the 800,000 clean tech jobs Obama predicts in the United States by 2012.

Ken Salazar, the Secretary of the Department of Interior (DOI), explained that the federal government prioritizes a path toward a safe, secure energy future. Besides last week’s decision to reinstate solar panels on the White House, the federal government has created a fast-track process for approval of large solar projects on federal land. Recently the DOI approved four Records of Decisions that represent 1,200 MW of solar installation commitments. Salazar signed the most recent Record of Decision live in front of the 700 participants in SPI 10’s Wednesday morning general plenary session. The action formalized the approval of First Solar’s Silver State 50 MW solar plant in Nevada.

Salazar’s decision adds to three other recorded projects:

  • Bright Source’s 370 MW Ivanpah Power Tower project that will create 1,000 temporary jobs and 100 permanent jobs
  • Tessera’s 709 MW Imperial Valley Sun Catcher dish technology
  • Chevron Energy Solution’s Lucerne Valley 46 MW project

The fast-track approval process is the basis for DOI’s longer term solar approval strategy including landscape level planning, identifying solar energy zones, and an initiative to facilitate transmission on public lands. Secretary Salazar ended his speech with good news to say “our work is just beginning.” This announcement was met by a standing ovation from the crowd of solar industry professionals.

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