Since 2008, the price of solar technologies has decreased significantly and the U.S. solar market has experienced rapid growth.  The White House has just released a report chronicling this progress as well as ongoing efforts.  To recap some of the highlights:

  • In 2013 solar represented the 2nd largest source of new electricity capacity added to the nation’s grid (behind only natural gas)
  • The amount of solar power installed in the U.S. has increased from 1.2 gigawatts in 2008 to an estimated 13 gigawatts today—enough to power more than 2.2 million homes
  • Since the beginning of 2011, the average price of solar panels has dropped more than 60% and the price of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems have dropped by about 50%—PV solar modules cost about 1% of what they did 35 years ago
  • 60% of major homebuilders now offer PV as a standard available feature in new construction
  • 5 years ago, there were no commercial-scale solar energy projects on federal lands, but today the Interior Department is on pace to permit 20 GW of renewable energy projects by 2020
  • After the Dept. of Energy helped finance the first 5 domestic utility-scale PV projects larger than 100 megawatts to show the technology’s viability, 10 new similarly-sized projects have been financed by the private sector without DOE’s help
  • In 2010, the BLM approved the first utility-scale solar project on public lands and has since approved 28 solar and associated transmission projects with the potential to generate over 8,500 megawatts

The Obama Administration continues work to leverage initiatives to deploy solar through collaborations with state and local communities; as well as bolster solar production on federal lands and use by the federal government.

Working with State & Local Communities

  • While solar panels get cheaper every year, the soft costs like connection fees and labor of solar remain a price barrier.  In 2011, DOE launched its Rooftop Solar Challenge to task local and regional teams to streamline processes and make it easier to go solar. In the initial round, 22 teams worked to standardize permit processes, update planning and zoning codes, improve grid connectivity standards, and increase financing options. These efforts helped cut permitting time by 40% and reduce fees by over 10%.  Now, 8 new teams are working with industry and stakeholders to simplify the solar installation process on a more regional scale.
  • The U.S. EPA, with help from the National Renewable Energy Lab, has developed a mapping tool and suite of financing, siting and environmental assessment techniques in the Re-Powering America’s Land Initiative.  The mapping tool identifies the energy generating potential of each renewable energy source by region—advising states and communities on the most effective renewable energy source for their area.
  • DOE’s new Solar Market Pathways program will target state and local market barriers with a focus on commercial-scale solar. It will fund programs to help spur solar market growth—including establishing or expanding community solar programs and local financing mechanisms, such as commercial property assessed clean energy (PACE).

Expanding Solar Power on Public Lands & in the Public Sector

  • The Defense Department has set a goal to deploy 3 gigawatts of renewable energy on its installations by 2025, and the federal government has committed to sourcing 20% of the energy consumed in federal buildings from renewables by 2020.
  • In 2012 BLM created the Solar Energy Program to make future solar energy project permitting more efficient for utility-scale development on federal lands.  The program creates solar energy zones with access to transmission, incentives for development, and a process to guide the deployment of additional zones and projects.  BLM established an initial set of 17 Solar Energy Zones to serve as priority areas for commercial-scale development, with the potential for additional zones through regional planning processes. If fully built out, projects in the designated areas could produce as much as 23,700 megawatts of solar energy.

With Congress unable to enact meaningful energy policy and state incentives facing increased resistance, it’s worth taking a step back to recognize the progress made by the solar industry and focus on the considerable opportunities still available for continued deployment.