Grid Alternatives that puts solar panels on low-income people's homes.
Solar made up 29 percent of new electric generation capacity installed in the United States in 2013, according to statistics compiled by the Solar Energy Industries Association. Solar was only exceeded by natural gas. In fact, more solar was installed in the past 18 months than in the past 30 years combined. The total new solar capacity last year came to 4,751 megawatts, an increase of 41 percent over 2012. In seven states, 100 percent of newly installed generation was solar.
All told, the U.S. now has enough photovoltaic capacity to power about 2.2 million average homes. That's a huge increase. But solar still provides a minuscule portion of U.S.-generated electricity, roughly one percent. We need 41 percent solar installation expansions for many years to reach the goals that we discussed in hopeful meetings 35 years ago at SERI.
Although President Obama has not made environmental advocates happy with his "all of the above" energy policy that includes more oil and gas drilling leases and support for "clean coal," his has been without question the most solar-friendly administration ever, including Jimmy Carter's. The Obama White House has sought to boost solar installations (along with those of other renewables like wind and geothermal). But, as we all know too well, he faces a Congress brim full of hostile politicians, including many fossil-fuel state Democrats, who have blocked any consideration of a comprehensive energy plan that emphasizes expanding renewables.
Part of Obama's Climate Action Plan announced 10 months ago is an end run around Congress in this matter. One element of that effort is making the federal government into a model of energy efficiency, renewables electricity generation and carbon dioxide emissions cutbacks. Last year, Obama reset from 7.5 percent to 20 percent the 2020 goal for powering with renewables the nation's 500,000 federally owned and leased buildings. That's both practical and sets an example for others.
As part of this effort, all day Thursday the White House has been hosting a "Solar Summit." This has included praise for solar champions and announcements of several small projects and reaffirmations of others to assist state and local governments in getting more solar installed and to spur the private sector to make more headway with its own solar installations.
The solar champions: Jessica Bailey, Director of Commercial and Industrial Property Assessed Clean Energy (C-PACE), Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority; Donnel Baird, Founder and CEO, BlocPower; Kate Bowman, Solar Project Coordinator, Utah Clean Energy; Elyse Cherry, CEO, Boston Community of Capital; Ismael Guerrero, Executive Director, Denver Housing Authority; Peter H. Marte, CEO, Hannah Solar LLC; Henry Red Cloud, Founder & Sole Proprietor of Lakota Solar Enterprises; Anya Schoolman, Executive Director of Community Power Network; Tim Sears, Co-Founder, GRID Alternatives; and, Rajendra Singh, D. Houser Banks Professor, Clemson University.
The efforts described in condensed form below the fold may seem like small potatoes to many readers. But one thing that should always be remembered when it comes to energy is that there is no silver bullet. Accumulating many small innovations, projects and programs across a broad range of options and technologies ultimately will have an immense impact.
Read below the fold for some specifics about the administration proposals announced today:
• Funding Regional Solar Market Pathways: The Department of Energy is providing $15 million to "Solar Market Pathways" to support state, tribal, and local leaders in developing multi-year plans that create an environment amenable to cost-competitive solar deployment. Targeted will be regulatory and policy market barriers to commercial-scale solar.
• Providing Technical Assistance and Analysis to Support Solar at Federally-Assisted Housing: The administration's Climate Action Plan sets a goal of 100 megawatts of renewable energy capacity at federally subsidized housing by 2020. That's triple the current level. The DOE via the SunShot initiative, together with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (the successor to the Solar Energy Research Institute), will provide staff and resources to reach the 100-megawatt target with technical expertise and mapping support.
• Launching an “On-Site Renewables Challenge” as part of EPA’s Green Power Partnership: The Environmental Protection Agency via the 13-year-old Green Power Partnership will aim to double by 2020 the use of on-site renewable energy at the 1,500 businesses, local and state governments and schools that have signed on as Partners.
• Sharing Best Practices with a “Solar Deployment Playbook”: To assist businesses looking to install solar, the DOE will soon release the Commercial Solar Deployment Playbook. This will help to identify low-cost financing for solar energy, provide model contracts and offer case studies of businesses improving their profit margins by using solar.
• Advancing Solar by Partnering with the Rural Utilities Service: "To support the growth of renewable energy in rural areas, last year, Agriculture Department’s Rural Utility Service (RUS) Energy Efficiency and Conservation Loan Program finalized rules to facilitate the development of distributed generation and solar in rural communities." The Department of Agriculture and DOE will now work directly with the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association to assist co-ops that want to install distributed solar in rural communities.
• Leveraging Financing Tools to Deploy Solar: The DOE will soon release an updated Guide to Federal Financing for Clean Energy. Included will be financing programs at the departments of Agriculture, Treasury and the EPA. The DOE's Loan Programs Office also announced earlier this week the draft of the Renewable Energy and Efficient Energy Projects Loan Guarantee Solicitation. When approved, this will provide at least $2.5 billion in loan guarantees for solar energy projects with a focus on those designed to improve the functionality of distributed generation and energy storage.
• Launching a Capital Solar Challenge: The challenge directs federal agencies, military installations and federally subsidized complexes to identify places where it makes sense to install solar across the National Capital Region. This program will take advantage of innovative financing such as aggregated solar purchases, power purchase agreements and energy performance contracts that lower electricity costs for these facilities.
• Continuing to Support Solar Deployment at Military Installations: For several years, the Department of Defense has been out in front when it comes renewable energy and efficiency gains for national security reasons. The Pentagon is committed to deploying by 2025 three gigawatts of renewable energy on military installations. "To help meet this goal, on April 25, the U.S. Army will break ground on a solar array that will provide nearly 25 percent of the annual installation electricity required for Fort Huachuca, Arizona.
A Siegel has a post on this subject here.