Washington, DC – In conjunction with the kick-off of Solar Power International 2008, the Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA) issued a challenge to the U.S. electric utility and solar industries to work in collaboration to meet aggressive solar electric capacity growth forecasts despite a struggling global and domestic economy. Prior to the recent economic downturn, analysts were predicting that the country could see an increase in solar capacity of more than thirty fold between 2009 and 2016. This is approximately three times the estimated amount of generation predicted to come on line as a result of existing renewable portfolio standards and policies in states with solar carve outs. If realized, this level of increased solar deployment would represent more than 60 billion kilowatt-hours of solar generation, 440,000 permanent jobs, and over $230 billion in investments and associated economic development benefits.
Long-term U.S. market stability-provided by the eight year extension of the federal solar investment tax credit, removal of the $2,000 cap on residential systems, and new eligibility for electric utilities-sets the stage for this significant challenge to be met. “The current suite of solar policies, including net metering, renewable portfolio standards, and piecemeal state incentives, will not be enough to achieve this goal in today’s poor economy. We also need new business models, project configurations, and collaborations to emerge,” added Hamm. “The long-term value to the United States is multi-faceted. It’s not just about clean energy, but also about economic development and job creation.”
The new solar electric capacity will come from a combination of large-scale power plants, including photovoltaics, concentrating solar thermal electric, and distributed photovoltaic rooftop systems for both the residential and commercial sectors. Prior to 2008, the predominant solar market was distributed PV systems on homes and businesses.
“A recent SEPA study shows that 10 utilities in the U.S. have integrated ninety seven percent of all grid connected solar capacity,” said Hamm. “There are over 3,300 electric utilities in this country, but 10 of them have dominated the solar landscape. In addition, a single utility, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) in California, has within its service territory, more than fifty percent of all grid-connected PV systems in the country. PG&E should be commended and encouraged to continue as a solar leader, but other utilities around the country must quickly begin to close this gap.”
To meet the aggressive solar capacity growth forecasts, SEPA calls for:
1.Utility ownership of solar power projects. The utility and solar industries must collaborate to find program structures, such as utility ownership of distributed photovoltaics, that provide a winning scenario for both industries, as well as for customers at large. The solar industry can utilize this new market segment as a buffer until home and small business owners are back on more solid economic footing.
2. Increased utility engagement in solar markets. The utility and solar industries must work together to get more utilities engaged, starting by increasing the solar knowledge base of utility employees, from top executives down to distribution engineers. We must move beyond having ninety seven percent of all grid-connected solar installations in just 10 utilities’ service territories.
3. Greased wheels. The utility and solar industries must work in partnership with regulators and investors to push for approval and funding of new transmission projects and the development of smart grid configurations to expedite the time frame in which new utility-scale and distributed solar projects can come on line and provide maximum value.
4. Development of innovative approaches. By working in collaboration, the utility and solar industries can make great strides towards modernizing today’s electricity infrastructure and offering customers affordable and clean power. But the status quo will not achieve the necessary results. We need bold new ideas developed in tandem for the mutual benefit of both industries, and society at large.
Filed Under: Electronics • electrical, Energy management + harvesting, Green engineering