13 Oct 2010

Solar Industry Needs These To Go Mainstream Throughout the U.S.

Written by Jim Pierobon

As the solar industry gathers this week at Solar Power International under the sunny skies of LA, clouds gathering on the horizon suggest some stormy ‘weather’ ahead. First, the mid-term elections could change legislative outlooks not only on Capitol Hill but in many states that require utilities to generate a certain percentage of electricity using solar energy. More funds allocated for renewable energy programs could be re-directed to other uses despite legislative directives or even mandates. This has already happened in New Jersey.

The failure of the Obama Administration and its allies to pass a cap ‘n trade program leaves all clean energy industries empty-handed looking for the One Big deliverable they expected from the first two years of his Presidency. Despite that, the industry will more than double the number of megawatts installed in the U.S. this year and several companies are scaling up to rely less on grants and tax incentives to make deals work, especially where per kilowatt-hour electricity prices are at least 10 cents and rising. But challenges remain.

As yours truly will share with conference attendees, here are 5 challenges the industry should collaborate on to build even more impressively on its overall growth and more solar beyond early adopters outside of California:

1. Help people understand solar’s benefits and how it works. Electric generation especially has become a ‘blood sport’ and solar needs national advertising; support from 501c3 non- profit groups, not just environmental activists; networks of third-party allies rising to the call and help for customers to tell their story

2. Make solar easier to buy by taking customer service as seriously as LL Bean; consolidate the purchase process into 3-4 ‘packagable’ steps and stay abreast of lessons being learned that the industry should share more effectively;.

3. Streamline permitting. Horror stories abound in several states where local governments, albeit a bit short-staffed, need crystallize the process for their benefit and the users’ benefit. And utilities need to be told to step up the pace of interconnecting systems to the grid to enable net metering.

4. Make solar available to those who cannot go solar at home. Groups of like-minded citizens, such as University Park Community Solar in Maryland, have formed LLC’s to accomplish.

5. Levelize tax breaks and other incentives with fossil fuels. Just think what solar could do if it got anywhere near the grants and tax incentives as fossil fuels and nuclear. Tip of the hat to 1 Block Off the Grid for spotlighting the amount U.S. taxpayers paid into fossil fuel subsidies over 5 recent years: $521.73; and the amount they’ve paid towards solar: $7.24.

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