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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : Jan/Feb 2004 : Headlines

HEADLINES

Can Solar Thrive?
Report outlines what's needed to accelerate the solar energy industry.


THREE KEY LEVERS
Technology Challenges include the need for breakthrough improvements—not just
incremental ones—that can dramatically reduce solar’s costs and improve its efficiency and reliability. This is due in part to inadequate government support for research and development, as well as investors’ sense that the potential market for solar is too small to justify massive infusions of capital.

Policy Challenges center on the lack of government support for solar, relative to
conventional energy technologies. Like coal, oil and natural gas, solar is dependent on supportive policies and initiatives at the local, state and federal levels.

Finance presents additional challenges and opportunities. Cost and affordability are the key detriments for many would-be solar buyers, whether consumers, businesses or governments. Easy financing remains a weak link; there is a need for financiers to reassess the risks of solar, giving large-scale solar projects better financing terms from lending institutions.

The Solar Opportunity Assessment Report (SOAR) released in late 2003 examines what is needed to grow the U.S. solar industry incrementally into a thriving industry, as well as through bold, audacious measures that could dramatically accelerate the transition to a clean-energy future. SOAR is based on interviews with more than 30 leading PV manufacturers, system integrators and industry experts, as well as on additional research. Participants in the survey included major solar companies such as BP Solar, Evergreen Solar, PowerLight, Sharp and Shell Solar, as well as major trade associations, current and past government officials and leading consultants.

According to the report, while new installations for solar PV systems have experienced a compounded annual growth rate of 24 percent over the past decade in the United States, the installed base remains frustratingly small. “This report illuminates what the current industry players think it will take to sustain or double current total cumulative installation projections by 2025, as well as outlining a far more ambitious path of capturing 10 percent of total U.S. electricity production by 2025,” explains Alisa Gravitz, founder of the non-profit Solar Catalyst Group and executive director of Co-op America Foundation. SOAR was produced by the Solar Catalyst Group, a project of Co-op America, and Clean Edge, Inc., a leading research and consulting firm focused on clean-energy technologies.

SOAR identifies a number of key challenges to growing the U.S. solar marketplace, including:

* its small production scale, which keeps quantities low and prices high;
* on-again, off-again government funding of solar research and development;
* a dearth of financing solutions, pricing solar out of reach of most users;
* a patchwork of regulations related to solar, forcing manufacturers and buyers of solar systems to meet different requirements in each state;
* a lack of coordination among companies, government agencies, the solar and building industries or potential buyers of solar systems; w a lack of standardized, plug-and-play systems that would greatly reduce the complexity and cost of designing and installing a solar-energy system;
* and a lack of education about solar’s benefits to a variety of audiences.

The report focuses on three pathways for solar’s future over the next quarter-century: Current Growth, Accelerated Growth and Hypergrowth, and describes the challenges and opportunities within each. The report also identifies the three key levers of the solar industry—technology, policy and finance—as well as three cross-cutting strategies that could help bring solar to scale: education, standardization and market development and aggregation.

SOAR also highlights what it would take to pull the various levers and coordinate the various strategies in order to double projected PV installations from 35 gigawatts to 70 gigawatts by 2025. The report also outlines an even grander vision dubbed the Solar High-Impact National Energy project or SHINE. The SHINE project calls for 290 gigawatts of cumulative installed PV in the U.S. by 2025, providing 10 percent of total U.S. electricity consumption.

To download a free copy of the Solar Opportunity Assessment Report, visit: www.solarcatalyst.org or www.clean edge.com.


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