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Champion Advocates of Photovoltaics

The solar industry is just one technology in a large pool of power generation, and its growth depends on public interest and advocacy. The articulate thought leaders in this category have led the public discourse on solar power, spreading the word about the industry and motivating consumers and governments to go solar.

Gabby Giffords, U.S. Congresswoman

If you want to find a true champion advocate of solar energy, look no further than Congresswoman Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords. After heroically surviving an attempted assassination at a Tuscon Safeway in January, that left six people dead and Giffords critically wounded, she made a surprise and emotional return to the House floor in August, casting a vote in favor of a bill to raise the nation’s debt ceiling. As if that wasn’t enough, she then hosted a Solar Summit in Washington, D.C. in September.

In August Giffords entered the chamber to sustained, standing applause, shaking hands with colleagues whom she had not seen since that January day when she was shot (she was not released from the hospital until June). After the vote was cast (hers was in favor), Giffords received multiple additional rounds of applause, as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called her “the personification of courage.”

When it comes to solar advocacy, her words speak for themselves: “Ever since I was first elected to Congress in 2006, advancing solar power has been one of my highest policy priorities,” she said in a video posted on her solar website (“This is because solar, along with other renewable energy technologies, is well suited to help address some of the biggest challenges facing our nation. Boosting our economic competitiveness, reducing our dependency on foreign oil, and mitigating our impact on the natural environment, solar provides a viable solution to all of these challenges.

“People have talked about solar’s potential for decades, but it’s really only in the last few years that solar has finally come into its own. In recent years, we have seen major improvements in both the economics and the performance of solar technologies. Solar is cost-effective in many areas of the country already and experts tell us that further improvements are on the way.

“Of course, some people say ‘Sure, solar power has great potential in Arizona, the sunniest state in the nation, but what about the rest of the country?’ Well, the exciting thing about solar is that it can be used just about anywhere. Consider the example of Germany, which currently has more installed solar power than any other country in the world. Germany has some wonderful qualities, but loads of sunshine is not one of them. In fact, the best place for solar power in Germany is only as good as the worst place for solar in the United States. Clearly, we have a huge untapped opportunity.

The fact is, solar is serious energy, and is poised to make a major contribution to the nation’s energy needs. All this industry needs is the right policies to help it take root and thrive. So look around. I look forward to working with you and helping to move solar forward. It’s not just my priority. It should be your priority too,” Giffords said.

In September, Giffords hosted a wide-ranging policy conference on the state and future of solar energy at the U.S. Capitol. The Giffords Solar Summit will featured perspectives on the state of solar energy from federal and Arizona officials, as well as a U.S. Marine Corps colonel and solar industry leaders and advocates, including Michael Bidwill, the president of the Arizona Cardinals and former chairman of the board for the Greater Phoenix Economic Council. Bidwill has developed and promoted tax and regulatory policies aimed at growing the solar industry in Arizona

George Papaconstantinou, Greek Minister of Environment, Energy and Climate Change

In September, speaking at EUPVSEC, George Papaconstantinou the Greek Minister of Environment, Energy and Climate Change of the Hellenic Republic, outlined an ambition project called HELIOS, a huge 10 GW solar installation planned for Greece. The project, which would be driven by investment from Germany, would deliver energy produced in sunny Greece to the rest of Europe.

“Project HELIOS, the Greek Solar Energy Project, represents the unique opportunity to use the abundant solar resources of Europe’s south and export clean energy to the north of Europe. It has clear technological, economic and political advantages for whole Europe,” Papaconstantinou said.

The project would expand Greek solar power production from 206 MW in 2010 to 2.2 GW by 2020 and up to 10 GW by 2050. “Greece enjoys 300 days of sunshine a year, almost 50 percent more sun radiation than Germany, the global leader in solar photovoltaics,” said Papaconstantinou at the conference.

The project, which would require an investment of 20 billion euros, is only in the planning stages, with many bureaucratic and legislative obstacles to be overcome for the project to be realized. The installation would cover 200 square kilometers of public land. For Greece, where unemployment continues to rise, the HELIOS project could create between 30,000 and 60,000 jobs.

In October 2009, Papaconstantinou was appointed Minister of Finance in the government formed by Prime Minister George Papandreou after the national elections, until June 2011, when he was appointed Minister of Environment, Energy and Climate Change.

Julia Hamm, SEPA

SEPA’s President & CEO Julia Hamm has strong relationships with individuals at utilities and solar companies worldwide, and is knowledgeable about solar programs, policies, barriers and trends. She is a frequent speaker at regional, national and international conferences and has authored numerous articles on solar trends as well as utility solar programs. Julia is also the chair of the annual Solar Power International conference and expo, the largest solar event in the US with 23,000+ annual attendees from over 90 countries.

“Solar power has made significant progress during the last decade, and will continue to grow into a substantial portion of our nation’s energy portfolio as the economic and environmental benefits become even more valuable to utilities and their customers,” Hamm said.

“More and more utilities are integrating solar power into their energy portfolios, including many in states like New Jersey, Idaho and North Carolina,” said Julia Hamm, in conjunction with the SEPA’s release of the organization’s Utility Solar Rankings report, earlier this year. “Solar power has largely been associated only with California and the Southwest, but that’s no longer the case.”


In SEPA’s 2008 Rankings report, 75 percent of the new solar capacity was located in California. By contrast, in the 2010 survey, 63 percent of new capacity came from other states. “Utilities nationwide are finding new ways to take advantage of the benefits of solar power for themselves and their customers,” said Ms. Hamm. Altogether, the Top 10 utilities reported that they added 561 megawatts of new solar capacity, an increase of 100 percent over 2009

The Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA) is an educational non-profit dedicated to helping utilities integrate solar power into their energy portfolios. With more than 875 utility and solar industry members, SEPA provides unbiased utility solar market intelligence, up-to-date information about technologies and business models, and peer-to-peer interaction.

Prior to SEPA, Hamm worked as a senior associate at ICF International, a consulting firm in the areas of energy and environment, where she supported the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency with implementation of its ENERGY STAR program. In 2007 she was named one of the Top 10 Women in Cleantech by earth2tech. Julia holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Management from Cornell University.

Thomas Chrometzka, PV LEGAL

Solar photovoltaic (PV) electricity has experienced remarkable growth in recent years, but bureaucratic hurdles continue to make it impossible to fully exploit the sun’s potential as a source of energy. As the coordinator of PV Legal, Thomas Chrometzka of BSW-Solar (the German Solar Industry Association), aims to change that.

The PV LEGAL project, funded by the European Commission’s Intelligent Energy Europe programme, aims at reducing bureaucratic barriers holding back the development of Photovoltaic (PV) energy installations throughout Europe.

In a new publication, the Chrometzka and the European PV LEGAL project makes concrete recommendations for reducing administrative barriers to the planning and installation of PV systems and helping to spur more development of this safe, clean and infinitely renewable energy source.

Marie Latour, National Policy Advisor for the European Photovoltaic Industry Association, a partner in the PV LEGAL project, said “In many EU countries, administrative processes and permitting procedures still require significant improvement. As a result, planning and connecting a solar PV system to the grid can still take several years in Europe.”

“Only by removing administrative barriers can solar PV achieve its full potential and become competitive in the energy market,” said Chrometzka. “By identifying the main bureaucratic hurdles to the successful deployment of PV and formulating concrete recommendations to remove them, PV LEGAL provides a comprehensive set of solutions to improve legal and administrative frameworks.”

The EU’s Directive for the promotion of Renewable Energies sets binding renewable energy targets by 2020 for each Member State and includes strong provisions for the reduction and simplification of administrative barriers and access to the grid for renewable energy systems. By full implementation of the Directive, many of the barriers identified by the PV LEGAL consortium could be resolved.

The main barriers identified by the PV LEGAL consortium include: permitting procedures; grid connection rules and technical standards; grid connection procedures; and grid capacity issues. For each barrier, the PV LEGAL report makes concrete recommendations for streamlining and improving procedures and for taking PV into account.

The recommendations include such common-sense policies as:

  • Creating lean and appropriate permitting procedures, and a one-stop shop for all permissions
  • Defining deadlines, and giving better guidance to planning authorities
  • Involving the PV industry in bodies in charge of defining technical standards
  • Making technical standards and grid connection rules binding and exclusive
  • Streamlining grid connection procedures and setting penalties for not respecting deadlines
  • Seriously addressing grid capacity issues by evaluating costs, benefits and the potential for grid extension and improvement and developing strategic grid concepts taking into account RES potentials
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