US Vice President Joe Biden Lets the Solar Secret Out

According to Vice President Joe Biden, the secret that is solar is finally out and that’s a good thing. Biden, who spoke at Solar Power International on Wednesday, is clearly a fan of the technology. He thanked the industry representatives in attendance for the work that they do providing clean energy to the world, jobs to veterans and energy independence to the U.S. The industry has grown an incredible amount since he and Obama took office, he said. “I remember the very first event I attended for solar power, this middle section right here [indicating the first 20 rows in the center] would have been an overflow crowd at the time, not a joke,” he said.

“What’s happening is you are letting the secret out,” he said, comparing solar power to what his wife believes is the best-kept secret in higher education — community college.  “I really mean this sincerely, the more Americans who understand the possibilities of solar…just imagine what we can do.  Folks, we are on the cusp of something huge here but a lot of folks don’t realize it.”

Biden went on to give an overview of some of the encouraging solar statistics, such as the fact that the solar industry employs more people than Google, Apple, Twitter, and Facebook combined and how solar has grown exponentially in the past few years.

“We got to this place with basic blocking and tackling,” he said. “The federal government invested seed money for R&D and promising technologies. Companies — such as many of you sitting in front of me today — unleashed unprecedented clean energy innovations.” He pointed to the declining costs in the industry and said how solar is “getting awful close” to the cost of coal-fired energy. “We are seeing costs of 3.87 cents per kWh,” he said.

Biden joked that his audience was well aware of the statistics he was throwing out: “Now I know you know all this but the press is here and it’s important that message get out!” he said. “As I said, I know I’m preaching to the choir but it’s important. It’s important the people understand what you have done!”

He then touted the Clean Power Plan (CPP) and how the limits on carbon will help spur even more innovation in the clean energy sector and explained how the CPP allows the U.S. to show climate leadership.

Biden also announced $102 million in competitive grants to companies and research institutions as part of the Sunshot Initiative. “If we stay at it, in my view, we can make it fast and easier for Americans to choose clean energy,” he said.

Biden appears to be a true believer in solar. “You can actually almost taste it,” he said, “it’s at our fingertips, you can feel it.”

Of course none of this is without its challenges, Biden explained: financial certainty, IP protection, fair trade rules — all of these are important to helping create a solid industry. Overall, however, the solar industry is poised to thrive, he said. “The demand is there. This year solar has constituted 40 percent of all new electrical generation brought online in America. That’s you!”

Understandably, the industry reacted well to Biden’s remarks. “It was so impressive to hear a senior government official talking about solar in such detail, including his comments about costs coming down and solar becoming more economically competitive. He specifically talked about solar projects generating at 3.7 cents per kilowatt hour, which is competitive with many other forms of energy, including coal,” DNV GL’s Director of Solar Segment Ray Hudson said in an email.

Solar Electric Power Association president Julia Hamm agreed. “I thought it was great,” she said. “To me I think the most exciting thing was seeing his passion about it. As the speech went on, he got more and more passionate, and you could tell these are issues he really cares about.”

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Jennifer Runyon has been studying and reporting about the world's transition to clean energy since 2007. As editor of the world's largest renewable energy publication, Renewable Energy World, she observed, interviewed experts about, and reported on major clean energy milestones including Germany's explosive growth of solar PV, the formation and development of the U.S. onshore wind industry, the U.K. offshore wind boom, China's solar manufacturing dominance, the rise of energy storage, the changing landscape for utilities and grid operators and much, much, more. Today, in addition to managing content on Renewable Energy World and POWERGRID International, she also serves as the conference advisory committee chair for DISTRIBUTECH, a globally recognized conference for the transmission and distribution industry. You can reach her at Jennifer.Runyon@ClarionEvents.com

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