Industry Growth and Policy Progress on the Agenda at Solar 2008

Solar 2008, the 37th conference put on by the American Solar Energy Society (ASES), brought together engineering, business and policy experts in the solar industry in San Diego, California from May 3-8. On the agenda at this year’s conference was a look at solar energy in transition, as the technology continues to more toward the center of the U.S. energy landscape.

This move is being spurred by growth in solar photovoltaics (PV), concentrating solar power (CSP) and a host of other solar generation technologies available for commercial or consumer use. In his plenary address, Jigar Shah, Chief Strategy Officer for SunEdison, LLC said that solar will reach close to 65 gigawatts (GW) of total capacity by the end of 2018 if a growth rate of 50% percent per year can be sustained.

“Where solar is today is completely different from where solar was even two years ago. There’s a level of recognition globally now that solar is not just a toy, but something that can actually be a material part of the solution, with wind and with some of the other friends that we have in the renewable energy industry,” Shah said. “The solar industry has grown at about 41% per year since 2001 globally. The solar industry, in terms of dollars is the same size of the wind industry today. It enjoys more uniform support from the general public than any technology, which is critical, because this is how we will ultimately get over some of the last objections that people have.”

Craig Cornelius, Principal at Hudson Clean Energy Partners said that investment in solar will grow as the industry grows and that this investment will take several different shapes.

“As of last year if you’re looking at the cumulative investment into both sponsor equity and generating projects and also equity investments in companies that manufacture through the supply chain or develop projects, overwhelmingly wind is the sector that sees the largest volume of investments despite the fact that some of the best performing stocks in the renewable sector have been publicly traded equities in the PV sector,” Cornelius said. “We’ll continue to see very large sums of capital that have to get deployed in order to realize the immense potential for solar. For the PV industry today, if you were to install 10 GW of generating capacity in the U.S. over the next seven years, which I think is a very conservative estimate, there’s US $40 billion worth of debt and equity or tax equity that that would entail, just on the project finance side to say nothing of the financing that goes along with building a global supply chain.”

Creating markets to foster the progress of the solar industry was also part of the discussion at the conference. According to Michael Dworkin, Director of the Institute for Energy and the Environment at Vermont Law, for solar to reach its full growth potential, proper regulation policies must be put in place and these policies should be approached at all levels of government.

“Ideally action would happen at a federal level. The reason to move at the federal level is because it can be comprehensive, so you get the advantages of scale, you get predictability and you get consistency. But if it isn’t happening at the federal level, one of the glories of our nation is that we have the laboratory of of the states where you can try to develop something, move it forward as far as you can and show that it works in order to give some confidence at the federal level,” Dworkin said.

In a conference session regarding financial incentives for solar, David Felix, Senior Policy and Channel Manager for MMA Renewable Ventures, said that policies are evolving that will be workable for the industry in the future.

“I think the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) with tradable Renewable Energy Certificates (RECS) seems to be emerging as a feasible option. I think Solar RECS are really a form of performance based incentives because the more you make the more you can sell. It isn’t perfect, none of the polices out there are perfect and I think that’s why each state has their own thing,” Felix said.

Adam Browning, Executive Director of Vote Solar also pointed out that while incentives are on the current legislative agenda at the municipal, state and federal level, the industry must look to the time when the incentives won’t be needed.

“When the subsidy goes away, that’s the beginning of your market, not the end of it. That’s when solar will really be able to grow and take off,” Browning said.

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