Power Forward: An Industry in Motion

susanGreeneBy SUSAN GREENE

The title of this column, Perspective, is a reminder that the American Solar Energy Society will convene its 42nd annual National Solar Conference this month. ASES, now in its own 59th year, is arguably the most steadfast institution in a business racing forward at breakneck speed. Change is so rapid that some of the most important players struggle to keep up. Installation growth in the United States has slowed from 100 percent annually to 76 percent, and many pundits predict 40 percent going forward. But over the past five years, the pundits have consistently overestimated solar’s costs and underestimated its future growth.

Drivers

SOLAR 2013 will bring perspective to that growth, examining the forces driving the industry toward profitability, and the hurdles yet to be overcome. We’ll look at –

The dizzying changes in the world of solar finance. Consider: While local banks dozed, solar leasing companies exploded with the support of investment banks. Driving the growth of solar, leased systems currently make up more than 50 percent of all installations. Now “green banks” are catching up, solar prices are going down, and construction companies can easily fold the cost of a solar roof into the price of a new house.

Community solar projects, now specifically enabled by legislation in California, Colorado, Massachusetts and Utah, and widely avail- able elsewhere through bulk-purchase programs and municipal-utility installations.

The plummeting cost of solar equipment.
Building community resilience in the face of extreme weather disasters. These developments bring the up-front cost of solar within reach of the average American homeowner or small business.

Barriers

A number of important barriers remain. Among them, we’ll explore —
Reducing the soft costs of solar — not just planning and permitting fees, but also the high costs of customer acquisition and sales. Our speakers from Germany will explain the policies and programs that enabled their country to cut installed cost to about half what we pay.

Confronting the opposition — not just the misinformation spread about renewable energy by reactionary media, but the specific legislation designed to delay or repeal pro-solar policies at the state level.

Technology

The heart and soul of the conference has always been the advancement of the renewable energy and energy-efficiency technologies. As usual we have a full spectrum of reports on green building and passive solar architecture, cost-effective energy storage developments, progress toward breaking the 33.7 percent efficiency barrier in photovoltaics, renewable fuels, concentrating solar power and grid improvement. See page 36 for a fuller accounting of the program, and see solar2013.org for the detailed schedule.

Finally, and most important, we’re pleased to expand our program for young professionals in the field. These are students and recent grads, entering our labs and businesses with their track shoes laced, ready to lead the changes to come.

Susan Greene was president of the American Solar Energy Society from 2012 – May 2013.

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