Utah, USA -- May 9 was a big day for the solar industry. Forget big — huge. It’s a rare occasion when the most powerful person in the world takes to the bully pulpit to sing the virtues of a particular industry, and even rarer when that praise is backed up by action and dollars. But that’s precisely the gift that advocates of the U.S. solar industry were given when President Obama announced a massive, $2 billion federal funding package in combination with executive orders and hundreds of private and public sector commitments to drive forward one of the most rapidly growing renewable energy industries in the nation.
This article is the cover story for the July/August 2014 digital edition of Renewable Energy World. You can preview the issue at this link.
Breaking Down the Plan
The President’s five-point plan will be bolstered by executive actions that will drive investments in solar energy upgrades for government and private sector buildings, improve appliance efficiency standards, strengthen commercial building codes, encourage innovative financing, and create jobs by developing a skilled solar workforce.
In answer to the call — and in answer to the increasing demand for more widespread availability and improved affordability for solar energy — more than 300 organizations across the private and public sectors have announced commitments that fall in lockstep with the President’s vision to make 2014 “a year of action” for solar. The organizations include affordable housing developers, rural electric cooperatives, state and local governments, and a variety of retailers in the commercial sector. In combination with a number of stated administration initiatives, the commitments made will result in the deployment of over 850 MW of solar energy. They will also result in investments in energy efficiency that will decrease carbon pollution significantly, save billions per year on energy bills, and ready tens of thousands of prospective job seekers for careers in the solar industry.
Rhone Resch, President and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), called Obama’s announcement “the most significant speech the President has ever made about solar” and said it would go a long way toward educating the public about the many successes of the industry and how corporations around the country are embracing it.
Resch added that he believes the projected 850 MW of solar deployment that will result from the President’s announcement is just the tip of the iceberg. “These are programs that will have multiplying effects and could result in literally tens of gigawatts of solar deployment,” Resch said. “The list of companies is going to grow massively. The amount of commitments will also continue to grow.”
Minh Le, director of the Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative, said the large number of announced private sector commitments — including those from corporate giants like Walmart, The Home Depot, Apple and Google — are crucial to demonstrating that solar investment has come of age as an energy alternative that makes strong business sense.
A new 1.1-MW solar array built by REC Solar atop the future Miami-Dade IKEA store opening this summer in Sweetwater, FL. IKEA is one of the of the many commercial sector leaders that made solar commitments as part of Obama’s Year of Action solar speech. Credit: IKEA.
“This really highlights the underlying premise of the SunShot Initiative,” Le said. “When the initiative was launched, we posited that in order for solar to be a pervasive part of our nation’s electricity supply, it has to make economic sense. We’re seeing that now. We’re seeing businesses make those commitments to use more clean energy. Likewise, we’re seeing more homeowners make those commitments.”
Tackling Increased Solar Deployment through Innovative Financing
In the President’s speech, he announced that five leading financial institutions — Citi, Goldman Sachs, Boston Community Capital, and the Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority of Connecticut — have committed to large-scale investments and the development of innovative lending programs to further solar deployment. Boston Community Capital and Connecticut’s Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority will each focus on funding and developing solar projects in their respective states, while Citi and Goldman Sachs have said they will focus their efforts on nationwide solar investments through certain financing mechanisms and the formation of partnerships with private and public entities.
Walmart and SunEdison completed the installation of new solar power panels on the Walmart store in Kapolei, HI. Walmart is one of the of the many commercial sector leaders that made solar commitments as part of Obama’s Year of Action solar speech. Credit: Walmart.
But it’s the inroads being made on the federal side that Resch believes could prove the most impactful when it comes to fostering exponential growth for the U.S. solar industry. This includes building on the proven success of the Defense Department’s renewables program by enabling the General Services Administration (GSA) — which owns and operates all federal government facilities — to take advantage of innovative financing options that will lower energy costs and increase renewable energy production through the sharing of resources.
“What this means is third-party ownership,” Resch said. “This would allow the biggest energy consumer in the world to be able to use some of the more innovative financing techniques developed in the solar industry to deploy literally gigawatts of solar on government-owned facilities throughout the country — from federal courts, to VA hospitals, to post offices. The list goes on. Literally every county in the country has some type of federal facility. That alone is a very important piece.”
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