While worldwide reactions were tepid at best to the December 2009 United Nations Climate Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, and specifically about to the inability of political leaders attending the event to tackle climate change, more optimistic news emerged from the conference on at least one front: the future of solar power.
Reporting alongside their colleagues from around the world, representatives of the U.S. Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) released a report at the conference, which projects a sunny picture for solar power in the United States. According to the report, solar power is capable of meeting 15 percent of the country’s energy needs by as early as 2020. The total is broken down according to specific solar technologies, with photovoltaics projected to be the bulk (10 percent) of that figure. Solar thermal and concentrated solar power will pick up the slack, at 3 percent and 2 percent, respectively.
Equally important, the growth in solar power, if fully realized, could account for the creation of nearly a million new jobs. That is something the Obama administration can’t ignore in its quest to jumpstart the national economy.
Federal policy-makers should take notice because, according to the report, substantive policy changes will need to be implemented to spur this kind of industry penetration into the nation’s energy markets in such a short time frame. To reach the 15 percent mark, installed capacity of solar power will have to increase from its current total of approximately 2,000 MW to 400,000 MW. That’s a 200 percent increase.
Furthermore, to affect that kind of immense growth, the report admonishes policy-makers to get busy quickly on a range of changes, including global warming legislation, a federal renewable energy portfolio standard, strong transmission and interconnection policies, and net metering standards. Additionally, these policies should be coupled with a variety of financial supports, including tax credits for investors and manufacturers, as well as a mixture of loans, grants, training programs and state incentives.