Solar Energy’s Time to SHINE

Industry is rarely stagnant, though sometimes it moves much slower than some people would like. The solar photovoltaic industry in the United States has lagged behind the German and Japanese markets for a few years now, and the Solar Catalyst Group business consortium of Co-op America and the research group Clean Edge have come up with a plan to make U.S. solar shine again.

The Solar High-Impact National Energy (SHINE) project proposed by the two organizations is a ten-year plan to push solar PV over the tipping point and make solar cost-effective for businesses, homeowners, industry, and utilities far faster than current, business-as-usual trends. SHINE could create up to 580,000 new American jobs and generate up to 9 percent of the country’s total electricity needs by 2025, according to the joint press release, which would be the equivalent of serving over 48 million American homes with clean energy. “SHINE outlines an energy- and economic-security plan that will help protect America from the staggering human and economic costs that we suffer when our energy supply gets disrupted from conflict, accidents, supply constraints, or acts of malice,” said Alisa Gravitz, the executive director of Co-op America. “The SHINE plan catalyzes American entrepreneurs and business to regain dominance in the fast-growing solar PV market, overcome critical climate change issues, and create jobs and economic prosperity — all without burdensome regulation, global treaties, or any new costs to federal taxpayers.” Programs to help reach those goals are: the Solar Utilization National Underwriting Plan (SUNUP), which proposes a federal block-grant program to provide matching funds to states to implement solar installation programs; the U.S. Rooftop Initiative for Solar Energy (U.S. RISE), which proposes an aggressive federal commitment to purchase solar systems for government facilities and operations; and the American Solar Advancement Prize (ASAP), a high-stakes/high-reward competition to develop and deploy new solar technologies and systems that could dramatically reduce costs for the PV industry. Federal funding for SHINE should be less than $5 billion over ten years, according to the press release. The investment would be paid through energy savings and a small shift in government energy investments in fossil fuels, and that plan should make SHINE revenue-neutral. “SHINE will enable the U.S. to play a leadership role in clean-energy technology development rather than ceding yet another industry to Europe and Asia,” said Ron Pernick, co-author of the report and co-founder of Clean Edge. “The report outlines a blend of market and capital forces, nudged by a small initial government investment, to produce significant economic, environmental, and social returns.” SHINE’s programs reduce the price of solar far faster than would take place under business as usual, thereby creating mass markets for solar PV decades sooner than they would otherwise develop, the organizations said. Within ten years the program could reduce prices to $2.50 a watt or less, the price at which solar becomes affordable for most retail electricity customers. By 2025, SHINE’s programs could reduce prices to as low as 80 cents per installed watt, compared to about $2.70 for the business-as-usual case. That difference would make solar cost-competitive with coal, natural gas, and other more polluting energy sources for nearly every application, from residential and commercial rooftops to utilities and hydrogen infrastructure applications. The full report on the SHINE program is available through the links below.

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