You may recall that four years ago Obama trumpeted three pillars for his new administration: health care, education and energy. The administration dithered on developing a comprehensive energy policy, leaving it to Congress to bury any chance of moving forward because of partisan wrangling. Possibly Obama learned his lesson on energy and when it came time to advocate for health care reform was much bolder and showed more leadership. Unfortunately for those who wanted to see a comprehensive energy policy, the chance for an energy policy withered on the trees in the first Obama administration. Two years ago, there was a small window of opportunity to recast renewable energy in the cloak of a jobs initiative, but that effort did not get very far and most believe that there is little appetite to restart the debate—which made Obama’s speech all that more interesting when he laid out a forceful vision on addressing climate change. Climate change got top billing over foreign affairs and world peace. The Administration is going to have a lot on its plate over the next six months, the critical time to set the agenda and seal the Obama legacy. Will Obama take on Congress not only on immigration reform, gun control, maybe gay rights—and climate change? Many will argue that the train has already left the station on competitiveness in the renewable energy field and we have already lost the competitive edge. It is all that much harder to get the ketchup back into the bottle in a second term presidency. This is particularly true when you consider the there is no economic imperative to do so: read shale gas. Leading the transition to solar energy and other renewable just does not seem to be a high priority.
Archive for the ‘Solar Policy & Incentives’ Category
The solar energy industry experience a lot of highs and lows during 2012. The biggest development has been the continued growth of solar energy in the United States. As recently reported, if you compare the third quarter of 2012 with the third quarter of 2011, you would see that there was a 44% growth in the amount of solar photovoltaics (PV) installed in the United States. By anyone’s measure that is a huge growth rate. In our first blog post on the solar energy year in review, we discussed the huge price reduction in solar panels, dwindling incentives, and the effect of competing energy sources particularly natural gas on the adoption of solar energy in the U.S. In this blog post, we can’t avoid talking about some of the troubling issues facing the solar energy industry. We will discuss the Department of Energy loan program and tariffs.
We know this much about the solar industry as we approach the end of the year. It was another year of fast moving changes in the industry. The good news is that in 2012, there were a whole lot of solar panels going up on homes and businesses in the U.S. And there were some setbacks for the industry. At the beginning of the year, few had even heard of Solyndra—but by the end of the year, Solyndra had become a household name. As the New Year approaches, we want to reflect back on what 2012 meant for the solar industry. In our blog, we will discuss some of the highs and lows for the solar industry this past year. In this first of two blog posts, we will reflect on the decrease in the price of solar panels, on the effect of natural gas and coal on the solar industry, and finally on the dwindling incentives available to support solar energy.
I was excited to see the presidential candidates discussing energy independence and alternative sources of energy during the second presidential debate. Both candidates acknowledged that they would use an all-of-the-above approach to make America an energy independent nation, but in different ways. Governor Romney’s major focus is supporting the oil industry, increasing off-shore drilling, and constructing an oil pipeline from Canada. President Obama, who has thus far refused to build such a pipeline, supports oil and natural gas, but wants to increase the focus on renewables like solar and wind. While the candidates debated energy independence for several minutes, they failed to discuss climate change. It’s surprising that climate change didn’t come up, especially because it is crucial to consider when discussing which sources of energy our country should be developing.
In what is now an annual ritual, the SolarTown summer interns got the opportunity to lunch yesterday with White House Correspondent Paul Brandus. Brandus, an award winning member of the White House press corps, goes around tweeting to his vast following of over 130,000 followers on Twitter through the West Wing Reports. Now that is what you call influence. You don’t know what is going on at the White House, unless you are catching Brandus’ tweets. We were able to get a little closer to the action at the White House with our memorable Thai lunch with Brandus. Over generous portions of pad thai and drunken noodles, we talked about renewable energy and the presidential election.
The two major impediments to homeowners installing solar panels on their roofs are financing and aesthetics. We have talked with a lot of homeowners and the discussion always seems to revolve around these two issues. A homeowner has applied to install a system on a sloping roof from which the solar panels would be partially visible from the street. The historic preservation board voted down the plan to install the panels on the 1906 home. Much education has to be done on both sides and with increased understanding, solar designs can blossom in historic districts.
SolarTown went to a panel discussion at the Aid and International Development Forum held in Washington, DC earlier this week. The panel of policy analysts made a strong case for why we need to accelerate the adoption of renewable energy, including solar energy, into our energy portfolio. Otherwise, by the time that we get around to using solar energy, we may have to rely on a lot more on solar arrays floating on water. While all the panelists agreed that solutions were desperately needed, they differed in their approach to how to address the challenges of global warming. As one panelist said during his presentation, “climate change is the largest scientific experiment in the world.”
Innovation is often seen as the way to the future for solar energy. Everybody sees the value of solar panels on rooftops or in fields, but they also see the huge price tag attached to solar energy. Prices have dropped substantially in the past couple of years, mainly because of the Chinese entry and domination of the solar panel industry (and some will say unfair dumping of cheap modules onto the U.S. market). But that still leaves the question of the extent to which innovation plays a role in the developing solar industry. The Wide Lens, a recent book by Dartmouth professor Ron Adner, should be required reading for the up and coming solar equipment manufacturers.
Natural gas, Chinese manufacturing and austerity programs were the themes at a solar symposium yesterday in the Nation’s Capital. The GW Solar Institute brought together teachers, students, policymakers and the president of SolarTown to take on the subject: “Solar Energy: A Path to Energy Significance.” No one seemed to suggest that it was going to get any less dull in the solar market in the coming year, but the forecasts were few and far between as the solar market continues with its fits and starts.
Did you catch the State of the Union address last night? Hurray for renewable energy, but it is a speech that he could have given two years ago, pre-Solyndra. But a lot has happened in the last two years. In mild understatement, Obama conceded that, “Some technologies don’t pan out; some companies fail.” And some companies fail in a big way. Now the demise of Solyndra will be a big campaign issue, regardless of the merits of whether the federal government should have provided a loan guarantee to Solyndra. This accommodation of fossil fuel is simply recognition that this country will be dependent on non-renewable sources of energy for decades to come. Whether Obama’s moderate energy vision will gain any traction in an election year is a matter of considerable dispute. We shouldn’t lose hope that some energy policy will emerge, but don’t count on much progress in this election year.