During the opening of Intersolar North America, government officialsand international solar luminaries spoke, among them were Prof. EickeWeber, director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems;Prof. Ramesh Ramamoorty, director of the SunShot Initiative at the U.S.Department of Energy (DOE); and Katharina Reiche, parliamentary statesecretary of Germany.
San Francisco was recently named as the greenest city in NorthAmerica by Siemens’ Green City Index; Germany has the most installedsolar, and the SunShot Initiative is the best opportunity for the U.S. to become a world leader in solar. These speakers were well poised to address the pertinent solar issuesof the day.
Germany’s investment of 20 billion euros in solar development yielded 370,000 new jobs last year, according to Reiche. That’s part of thecountry’s efforts to decrease its gas emissions between 80 percent and95 percent of its 1999 levels.
“Germany and the United States are today faced with very similarenergy challenges. And it’s very important to discuss these in atransatlantic setting where we can learn from each other about how bestto meet these challenges,” Reiche said.
She called for energy system modernization and focused on three conditions that are similar in both countries.
“Our energy supply must be economical and efficient. Our energysupply must be safe. In other words it must further contribute toreducing dependencies on energy imports from largely unstable regions,”Reiche said.
The third condition is making sure the energy supply is environmentally sound meets both country’s climate and clean-air goals.
“If we meet these criteria, we can decrease our dependency on imports while creating sustainable jobs,” she said.
North America’s Intersolar highlights the potential for transatlantic discussions about renewable energy and climate change, according toReiche.
“This enables us to engage in a healthy contest for the greenestideas with our American partners. The role of a strong transatlanticdialog will not only affect developments in Germany and the UnitedStates, but also send strong signals to countries like China or India,”she said. “If we make the first move others will follow.”
That the U.S. is no longer the world’s top solar country is not news. Its efforts to reclaim that title are best embodied by the DOE’sSunShot Initiative. Ramamoorty is leading that effort through an arrayof projects.
“The original name for this program was the ‘Dollar-A-Watt’ program. A lot of people thought it was too tech-y. And we said, ‘OK, we will back off, we will make it more like Sleepless in Seattle, very romantic.’ Therefore, we have this notion of the SunShot,” Ramamoorty said.
It’s based on Kennedy’s Moonshot Initiative, which launched the U.S.to the moon, after the Soviet Union jumped ahead in the space race withSputnik.
“Thus we call this our Sputnik moment because something really hit us in the face,” he said.
In 1995, the U.S. had about 40 percent to 45 percent of the globalmarket share of solar, according to Ramamoorty. Since then, it fell toabout 6 percent of the global market.
“How does one get back onto the horse and be more competitive? We have a plan,” he said.
The dollar a watt figure consists of about 50 cents per watt for themodules themselves, which Ramamoorty called reasonable, but also for the balance-of-system costs to drop to 40 cents per installed watt.
“Which in this country is a very interesting challenge. Somethingthat nobody’s attempted before, and we are looking at it,” he said.
To address such costs, which includes local permitting costs, SunShot is asking cities to come up with streamlined, less expensive, quickermeans of permitting solar so it is deployed faster, Ramamoorty said.
“We’re challenging every city,” he said,” every jurisdiction to come forward with new protocols to implement solar.”
Since the U.S. uses 15 percent of the electricity produced in the world, the solar sales and manufacturing business is potentially a trillion dollar business domestically, Ramamoorty said.
“So we can’t afford to get away from this. Competitiveness andcreating jobs as a consequence is a very important component for us,” he said.
The U.S. has a successful solar venture capital market, according to Ramamoorty. And the Photovoltaic Incubator program has been very successful. But, the U.S. is still lacking in bringingcompanies from those initial stages to commercializing them.
“If you don’t invest in complete manufacturing, you can lose the [industry],” he said.
When U.S. companies are ready to become manufacturers at scale, theycan’t find attractive financing options. The U.S. can’t directly support that transition, but it can use its influence and support to help,according to Ramamoorty.
That’s resulted in programs like the DOE Loan Guarantee program.
“We believe this is the Apollo mission of our time. We would like tohave subsidy free electricity. In this country we have subsidies foreverything—take a left turn you have a 30 percent subsidy; do this youhave another subsidy. We want to get to where solar electricity is atapproximately five to six cents per kilowatt hour,” he said.
That’s comparable to fossil fuel without any subsidies.