US Undergoing Solar Energy Renaissance

Based on reports from Forbes, the New York Times and from industry press releases, US solar electrical generating capacity could double in 2011.

According to the reports, about 1.8 gigawatts in solar electric projects will complete in 2011. Adding to the current generating capacity of 2.3 gigawatts, total US production is set to rise to 4.1 gigawatts by the end of this year. This increase is enough raise the US share of global solar energy from 5 to 9 percent.

California and New Jersey are leading the charge in new solar developments with California pushing to have 33 percent of all energy generated by renewables by 2020 and New Jersey pushing for a 30 percent share by 2021. New Jersey governor Chris Christie recently suggested the goal be scaled back to 22.5 percent, however.

Much of the support for these new solar energy projects have come from government incentives applied through the 2009 Stimulus package and through a federal program that covered 30 percent of new project costs. That said, Solar energy prices are falling with residential solar costing $6.40 per watt, building installations for government and non-profits costing 5.35 per watt, and utility-based solar costing $3.85 per watt.

Private sector firms have also provided substantial funding for solar growth. Notably, Google has set aside $280 million to help establish a fund to help finance residential solar projects through Solar City. Overall, Solar city has raised $1.28 billion for solar financing.

“Google is setting an example that other leading American companies can follow,” said Lyndon Rive, CEO of SolarCity. “The largest 200 corporations in the U.S. have more than $1 trillion in cash on their balance sheets. Investments in solar energy generate returns for corporate investors, offer cost savings for homeowners, create new, local jobs for jobseekers, and protect the environment from polluting power sources. If more companies follow Google’s lead, we can dramatically reduce our nation’s dependence on polluting power.”

Solar City provides an innovative solar leasing program that allows consumers to have solar panels installed free of charge and then to pay for energy as it is produced. Solar City states that adding rooftop solar power in this way helps to reduce electricity costs to consumers while creating a positive impact on the environment. According to its website, Solar City has 15,000 solar projects completed and underway.

In addition to states and corporations, large cities such as New York and Los Angeles have both recently invested in Lidar surveys of rooftops to determine what portion of the city could be covered by solar panels. The recently conducted New York city survey found that 66% of its roofs could house photovoltaic panels and could together provide 49% of its total peak electricity needs.

This combination of local, state and federal government support, along with substantial investments by the business community has set the stage for a solar energy renaissance in the US. But continued government and public support are needed to carry this momentum forward. With a consistent effort, we stand to earn both strong economic and environmental futures for ourselves, our children and our country.