Solar industry leaders share vision for solar power future

Jan 27, 2005

Several Congressional lawmakers today embraced a proposal from U.S. solar energy manufacturers to speed the commercialization of solar electricity in domestic markets, putting the U.S. back at the forefront of the burgeoning photovoltaic (PV) industry.

At a Capitol Hill briefing, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), representing over 700 companies and 20,000 employees in the U.S. solar industry, unveiled a report titled, "Our Solar Power Future: The U.S. Photovoltaic Industry Roadmap for 2030 and beyond." Noting that the U.S. has lagged behind Europe and Japan in solar industry manufacturing and deployment, the Roadmap called for Congress to enact sustained, annually declining tax credits for solar deployment on homes and business.

"Currently, there are no federal tax incentives for homeowners to have solar on their homes," said Rhone Resch, SEIA president. "With the incentives in this Roadmap, we would see a dramatic expansion in US solar markets, with installed capacity of 200 gigawatts in the U.S. by 2030."

Solar photovoltaics use semiconductors, usually electronic- grade silicon, to directly transform the sun's energy into electric current. The proposed Roadmap would lower retail solar electricity prices from the current rate of 18 to 25 cents per kilowatt-hour to 5.7 cents/kWh in 10 years, making solar the least-cost retail option. Solar would provide half of all new electricity generation by 2025 under this scenario.

In addition, the Roadmap strategy would generate 60,000 U.S. solar industry jobs and more than $34 billion in new manufacturing investments over the next 10 years. By 2030, the U.S. solar industry could employ 260,000 people.

Several lawmakers enthusiastically supported the Roadmap.

"I will use every opportunity as a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee to advocate the Roadmap's targets as a minimum of what is possible," said Rep. Charles F. Bass (R-N.H.). "Solar energy will be a practical and cost efficient component of the United States' energy mix. It will also be a driver of economic growth and high-paying jobs, a tool for sound environmental stewardship, and a new pillar for distributing generation as a means toward greater grid reliability. I am committed to working with the industry to keep Congress's attention focused on the role photovoltaics can play in our broader national energy strategy."

"Solar power can play an important role in fueling America's future economic growth," noted Sen. James Jeffords (I-Vt.). "It can provide a clean, renewable and inexpensive source of energy while simultaneously creating new high-tech jobs."

Rep. Zack Wamp (R-Tenn.) also had positive words for the future of the industry.

"The acceleration of renewable energy technologies and the increase in support for solar must be key ingredients to the Congress's plan for energy independence," said Rep. Wamp. "Solar is an energy source that holds tremendous potential for today's demand. As co-chairman of the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Caucus, and as point man for energy issues on the House Policy Committee, I plan to aggressively pursue a sharper focus on energy efficiency and energy conservation in the 109th Congress."

With natural gas demand and prices skyrocketing, much of the briefing focused on the role solar could play in easing the natural gas crunch. SEIA's Rhone Resch estimated that solar power would displace six trillion cubic feet of natural gas by 2025 under the Roadmap scenario, saving American consumers approximately $60 billion.

"We have the highest natural gas prices in the world," Resch said. "Solar is the perfect technology to displace a portion of the natural gas demand and relieve some of the tightness in the natural gas markets. It can directly displace the need for peaking and intermediate gas plants, because solar power is greatest from 10 to 4 every day -- the time that the grid experiences peak power demand."