Message from Solar Power International: The solar industry is ready to fight


Guest Blogger Rhone Resch is President and CEO of the Solar Energy Association (SEIA).

The solar industry is wrapping up its most successful year ever. Solar is now the fastest growing energy industry in the U.S., employing nearly 100,000 Americans and generating billions of dollars of economic growth for our economy.

While solar grew in 2010, fossil fuel companies continued to show why their dirty energy is no longer practical to power our nation. In April, at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia, the coal industry suffered its worst mining accident in 40 years. Just one month later, the oil industry caused the worst spill in U.S. history, jeopardizing the ecosystem and economy of the entire Gulf region.

The solar industry, on the other hand, is on pace for a record year, installing enough clean, reliable solar energy to power more than 200,000 homes. This growth was highlighted last week when the Obama Administration announced that it would return solar to the White House.

The solar industry’s gains continued with last week’s announcement by the Department of the Interior that it will issue permits allowing the first utility-scale solar project on federal land. This is a significant milestone for solar. Over the last two decades, 74,000 permits have been approved for oil and gas drilling on public lands. And up until last week solar had received zero.

Over the next five years, our industry will see an aggressive expansion in both capacity and revenue. By 2015, the industry aims to install enough new solar electric capacity across the nation every year to power 2 million homes, making solar America’s number one source of newly installed energy capacity.

Think about that – that’s enough new solar capacity to replace 10 coal plants each and every year. We can install so much solar energy that we will eliminate the need for any new coal or nuclear power plants in the U.S. ever again.

This is why the solar industry has gathered this week in Los Angeles for Solar Power International 2010. It is an opportunity for 30,000 solar professionals to make the business deals that will help us reach that 2015 goal.

In many ways, the growth of this conference is reflective of the growth of the industry. During the first SPI in 2004, members of the industry gathered in small meeting rooms. But everyone there spent the next several years working hard and building this industry.

Today, SPI is the fastest growing trade show in the U.S., covering more than a million square feet at the Los Angeles Convention Center. And being here in Los Angeles, it is exciting to see so many new faces, from so many sectors of the economy that have been hit hard by the recession, but have found a new home in the solar industry.

I personally think that is the best part about the growth of our industry – that we’re creating jobs and opportunity across the country.  Creating new hope for electricians, salesmen, plumbers, roofers, and so many other professions that have suffered during the recession.

The message that we have brought to the industry is one of unity. The solar industry has to play as a team if it wants to beat back a growing chorus of attacks from the fossil fuel industry, which views (correctly) our growth as a threat to their bottom line.

They are mounting unprecedented attacks on our industry TODAY. From advertising campaigns to direct lobbying attacks in Washington, the fossil fuel industry is trying to shut solar down.

Big Oil companies and other special interests spent $500 million in lobbying and campaign contributions to defeat the clean energy and climate legislation in Congress. Using their resources, they were able to delay and ultimately kill any hope of a national RPS or cap and trade program.

In California, they are doing the same thing. The Big Oil companies, led by the Koch Brothers, are spending millions of dollars supporting Proposition 23, a proposal that would kill AB 32 – the most progressive clean economy legislation in the country. It is my intention to send the fossil fuel lobby a very clear message: “Step aside, and take your hands off of California’s clean energy economy.”

I urge all of you to do the same.

The solar industry is ready for the opportunities ahead. Ready to power 2 million new homes every year. Ready to create hundreds of billions of dollars in economic growth. To put Americans back to work in all 50 states. And we are ready to reduce the pollution causing climate change. I know we are ready because of the commitment I see from the entrepreneurs and small businesspeople who have gathered here in L.A. for Solar Power International and who are growing this industry all across the country, every single day. It is going to be an exciting week showcasing the work they are doing.

Rhone Resch

4 Responses to Message from Solar Power International: The solar industry is ready to fight

  1. Scrooge says:

    Progress marches on in spite of the Kochs with their puppets the GOP and the teabaggers. When the US is hit with crop failures like what happened in Russia and Korea this year the Kochs will be singing the John Birch Society blues. Since the GOP and their teabaggers do not have the capacity to fix problems only to find someone to blame, will they turn on the Kochs of this world?

  2. Gord says:

    We have kept meticulous records of our solar power generation since late 2006. We are averaging 1.6 MWh of generation each year with our 1,500 watt solar array which provides 1/3 of our total household requirements over the last 3 years.

    Our 12 panels are 12.5% efficient, 12 square meters in extent and cost us just under $10 a watt. The newest generation of panels are substantially less expensive and given the 12 square meters of space on our racking we could place about 2,000 watts of generation in the same space.

    One of our project goals is to provide information to the public both to give them good high fidelity data and to demystify household solar power generation.

    To that end we have placed all our solar generation stats on line plus a whole host of other household data. We have also published formal papers on various topics from household thermodynamics to simple sun tracking algorithms for solar arrays.

    You can find all our data at:

    With regard to industrial type solar power generation, we believe that the generation paradigm will have to change given the radically changed nature of the generating medium. Basically we are using an industrial model to generate solar power very similar to the old model used to generate power using carbon based fuels. The older model worked well given the fact that huge plants had to be built to use carbon fuels for generation. Centralization of generation facilities was a reasonable design feature.

    Today solar panels provide a granularity that does not benefit from economies of scale, the exact opposite of traditional power generation plants. In fact, the granularity of solar generation, that is each panel is a generator and requires nothing more than grid attachment technology, lends itself to a dispersed generation paradigm. This new paradigm, leveraging the new granular properties of solar panels allows power to be generated where it is consumed with no losses accumulated in power transportation. In fact, huge amounts of added generation capacity would require no upgrade to the existing grid.

    Photo voltaic power generation provides us with the opportunity to evolve our understanding of where exactly on the grid power should be

    In other areas of this blog Thomas Kuhn has been mentioned. We are on the cusp of such a revolution, only this time the paradigm shift is occurring in the realm of the best use of a new emerging generation technology.

  3. Anne van der Bom says:

    I bought my solar panels 6 months ago at ~ $ 4/W, including installation material and inverters. Further price drops are expected.

    The estimate presented in this article is very conservative, assuming a stable market of 2 GW per year after 2010. To me a 50% growth per year (as we have seen over the past 10 years) seems more realistic.

    Germany added 4.8 GW of solar power in the first 8 months of this year, so why the US, a far bigger economy, should be limited to a meager 2 GW per year is beyond me.

  4. Omega Centauri says:

    “We can install so much solar energy that we will eliminate the need for any new coal or nuclear power plants in the U.S. ever again.”
    I have trouble buying this. I certainly hope we will be able to, but unless we get a fundamental change in the way society uses power, we have the issue of intermittency. Storage doesn’t seem to be a viable solution either. It probably won’t be an issue during the time frame covered in this post, so the near term expansion plans should proceed full-speed ahead. But, there will always be a need
    for baseline power which is not affected by weather and the seasons.

    I disagree with Gord @2. There still is some economy of scale -even with PV. The cost per watt for inverters, and other balance of system issues, favors larger scale systems (although PV plants probably reach their optimum in the 100KW to 1MW range -versus hundreds of megawatts for traditional central power plants). Concentrating PV, if it becomes cost effective probably requires somewhat larger unit size. Clearly solar thermal requires scaling into the tens to hundred of megawatts per unit. All of these have a place in the market and on the grid. But all have the issue of storage. For the next decade, the grid functions as storage. But this implies that even net-zero installations require grid power for operation more than half of the time.