Huge Growth Expected for North American Solar Industry

President Obama recently stated in his 2011 State of the Union Address: “Instead of subsidizing yesterday’s energy, let’s invest in tomorrow’s.” Shortly thereafter DOE secretary Chu launched the SunShot initiative, geared at research to drive down the costs of solar PV aggressively.

As Conference Committee Chair of Intersolar North America for the past three years, I witnessed the ebb and flow of policy, regulation, investments and its effect on the solar industry. The U.S. solar market has the potential to double once again in 2011, making it a contender for the world’s largest solar market by 2015. The ‘perfect storm’ of incentives, regulations and affordability, makes it well positioned for strong growth. According to Jay Holman, lead analyst for IDC Energy Insights’ Renewable Energy Strategies program, “While subsidies undeniably underpin much of the solar PV industry’s recent growth, the industry has been rapidly innovating in ways that make solar PV systems more cost effective, easier to install from both an economic and an installation labor perspective, and easier to maintain.” Triggered by decreasing costs and the world’s quest for clean energy we are witnessing the start of a global solar tidal wave, with a 17 GW world market in 2010, and the US will be an important part of it. 

Currently 24 states and the District of Columbia have enacted a policy for renewable energy portfolio standards (RPS). There are five states that hold unofficial renewable energy goals. In addition to state measures, in his State of the Union Address, President Obama proposed an aggressive federal clean energy standard (CES), requiring 80 percent of the nation’s electricity to come from qualifying clean energy technologies by 2035. The drive for clean energy and solar power has never been as strong as it is presently in the United States. According to IDC, a total of over 2 GW of new solar PV installations will come online in North America in 2011. With a boost from larger projects expected to come online in the 2013-2015 timeframe, IHS iSuppli estimates the US market growing to over 5 GW by 2015. 

The “Other” Sunshine State

California has continued to maintain its solar leadership as state-level policies and incentives continue to drive the solar market. In the November 2010 elections, voters in the state defeated Proposition 23, which would have suspended a state law that set specific targets for the reduction of greenhouse gases. The striking down of Prop 23 convincingly marked the first public approval of a renewable energy focused bill and sent a loud message to policymakers. According to a January iSuppli report, “The recent defeat in California of a statewide ballot to repeal renewable energy targets will ensure that solar support continues in the United States’ largest photovoltaic market.” As California moves ahead toward renewables the state passed a bill to increase California’s Renewable Portfolio Standard from 20 to 33 percent by 2020, requiring 65 percent more renewable energy. A substantial amount of that energy is poised to come from solar.

The “State” of Solar

Several U.S. states are sprinting full speed toward renewable integration. New Jersey’s implementation of its Solar Renewable Energy Certificate (SREC) program, where one SREC is earned for each 1,000 kWh of energy generated makes the Garden State one of the busiest solar markets and the only state besides California to install more than 100 MW in a single year. The East Coast is emerging as a solar hot spot to watch, with Florida and Pennsylvania gaining solar attention. Pennsylvania will double its 2010 solar generation to just under 100 MW in 2011, making it one of the top five solar states. More proof that solar is on the rise across North America, Florida state legislature appropriated $31.4 million for its HVAC SunSense rebate program, which includes a solar energy rebate program.

New Mexico is in the solar spotlight in 2011 with its GS-Solar 300 MW project set to begin installation this year and projections of more than 100 MW to be installed in 2011, up from just 11 MW in 2010, according to iSuppli. Arizona will continue its aggressive solar drive with numerous rebates and tax incentives, and nearly 250 MW of installations slated for completion in 2011, up from 60 MW in 2010. In Colorado, the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association and the Colorado Renewable Energy Society along with many solar contractors are working on a new program that would shift toward a performance-based model, paying out for more energy. Hawaii, which has abundant sunshine and some of the highest electricity costs in the United States due to its unsupported grid, has set the bar with the most aggressive renewable portfolio standard (RPS) in the United States.

In Canada, Ontario is a contender to become the leading market for solar PV in North America in 2011. Ontario alone is forecast to install more than 400 MW of solar PV in 2011 — nearly double that installed by California in 2010, presently the largest North American market for solar PV. 

This July, North America’s solar hot spots will be in focus at Intersolar North America’s world-class conference, which I have the honor to chair. The conference features more than 200 world-class speakers across 30 sessions. The exhibition boasts nearly 800 exhibitors, many of whom come from these solar hot spots and are testaments to the progress and continued development of the North American solar industry. 

As bright minds meet and innovative ideas and a sustainable future meet, it’s never been clearer that North America is a contender to watch in the global clean energy race. Clean, infinite and renewable sources of energy have favorable policy, prices that encourage mass adoption, and innovative leaders bringing new technology into play. This sector will be one of the most dynamic in the coming years, presenting attractive business opportunities. To hear what industry leaders are saying about the current state of solar, join me at Intersolar North America this July 12-14 in San Francisco.

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Prof. Eicke R. Weber is Director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems, a world-leading research institutes for renewable energy energy and efficiency. He is also a professor of physics and applied sciences at the Albert-Ludwig University of Freiburg. Prof. Weber studied Physics at the University of Cologne, Germany where he made his doctorate in 1996. From 1983 until his retirement from teaching in 2006, he lectured for the Department of Materials Science and Engineering of the University of California, Berkeley. In 1990 he was appointed visiting professor at the Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan and in 2000 at the Kyoto University in Kyoto, Japan. In 1994 he received an Alexander von Humboldt Senior Scientist Award. From 2004-2006 he served as the chair of the Nanoscale Science and Engineering Graduate Group in Berkeley. He served as president of the Alexander von Humboldt Association of America (AvHAA) from 2001-2003 and in 2003 he was elected founding president of the German Scholars Organization (GSO). In 2006 he received the Award of Merit (Bundesverdienstkreuz am Bande) from the German President Horst Köhler.

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