Solar Roadmap Initiatives for Increased Deployment and Community-scale Power

Environment America released a new report recently that outlines theroadmap to meet 10 percent of the country’s energy requirements withsolar by 2030.

The study entitled “Building a Solar Future: RepoweringAmerica’s Homes, Businesses and Industry with Solar Energy” evaluates at a variety of solar technologies including photovoltaics,concentrating solar power, solar water heaters, solar space heating, and passive solar design. However, many of the assertions noted in theExecutive Summary have been repeated in similar reports; yet, at leastit emphasizes necessary basic roadmap initiatives.

The detailed roadmap for meeting increased solar power integration intothe nation’s energy supply is better suited for institutions like theU.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). NREL announced this month that it has established a new globalinstitute, officially known as the Joint Institute for Strategic EnergyAnalysis (JISEA) that will be focused on accelerating the deploymentof sustainable energy, globally. It will assemble joint institutionalpartners with leading engineering departments including: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Stanford University, theUniversity of Colorado, Colorado School of Mines, and Colorado StateUniversity.

This Institute will take advantage of the best tools and most credibledata to guide decisions on energy investment and policy made bylegislators, utilities, energy-related companies, and investors. TheJoint Institute partners will use their global networks to build project teams and request corporate sponsorship and involvement. Also, JISEAwill sponsor research combining the talents of university scientists,industry engineers, financiers and other experts in the field. Moreover, resulting recommendations will be fed into the U.S. partnerships with China and India.

Without a doubt, federal policy such as the Solar Technology Roadmap Act proposed by Arizona U.S. HouseDemocrat Gabrielle Giffords and Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act, which have essentially sat idle since December during the final charge for health care reform, will be critical for making the eventual recommendations a reality.

Another critical element for increased renewable energy deployment, ingeneral, is the approval of tax credits for community-scale powerprojects. Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) rolled out the first of a package of clean energy job creation bills based on this notion. One in particular is based on a proposal from a company called Holy Cross Energy inGlenwood Springs, CO, which is grouping homeowners together to invest in solar panels located on a separate nearby plot of land, as opposed toinstalling them on their homes.

It is an emerging option for solar power, known as community-scaleprojects or local solar farms, but the model can be applied to otherrenewables such as wind and geothermal, albeit less extensively, due to various constraints.However, even though this idea is particularly applicable tosolar-intensive regions such as the Phoenix Metropolitan area, it isstill subject to necessary integration with the local power grid, but assuming the projects are not in remote areas,as is the case for many utility-scale solar plants, then it will be less costly to link them via transmission lines to the power grid.

One of the barriers for pervasive growth in community-scale solar powerprojects is that the federal tax code has not been updated for many newtrends in the industry. The current law offers homeowners an income taxcredit for solar panels installed on their homes, but it does not allowthe same credit for collaborative community-scale projects. SenatorUdall’s Solar Uniting Neighborhoods (SUN) Act of 2010 modernizes the tax code regarding solar energy, enabling homeowners who invest incommunity-scale solar projects to receive a 30 percent tax credit.Similar to other solar tax credits, it would expire in 2016 unlessrenewed or made permanent. 

In any case, even with solar energy deployment reaching the highestlevel of industry expectations, it would still not seriously impactAmerican’s dependence on foreign oil; as this would require extensiveconversion to (domestic) natural gas, biofuel, and/or electric-based vehicles.

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