Solar power primed to meet US energy needs, says SEIA

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) has this week published a report titled Cutting Carbon Emissions Under §111(d): The case for expanding solar energy in America in preparation for the announcement in June by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of new air quality standards.

Taking a point-by-point analysis of the U.S. solar power industry, the SEIA report presents a detailed case arguing that clean solar energy is primed to enable the U.S. to meet clean air standards and slake the nation’s thirst for energy.

The report follows an earlier publication this month of the National Climate Assessment report, which clearly outlined the dangers presented by unchecked climate change, both to the U.S. economy and the environment. Reducing greenhouse gases (GHG) is seen as the most direct, critical measure that states across the U.S. can take in order to comply with the forthcoming EPA emission standards, due June 2. From that date, every state will be required to present a compliance plan, approved by federal regulators, that details carbon-reduction proposals.

SEIA CEO and president, Rhone Resch, believes that solar can be a "real game-changer" for states struggling to reduce their carbon emissions. "We have a very simple message to state regulators: do the math,” Resch said.

"When it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, the 13 GW of solar currently installed in the U.S. generates enough pollution-free electricity to displace 14.2 billion pounds (6.35 billion kg) of coal, or 1.5 billion gallons (5.6 billion liters) of gasoline. Put another way, it’s the equivalent of taking 2.7 million passenger cars off U.S. highways each year."

Solar: nice work

The environmental benefits of a shift away from fossil fuels are well documented, but the SEIA has also been keen to stress the economic attractiveness of the solar industry. The SEIA report reveals that the solar industry is the fastest-growing source of renewable energy in the U.S., and employs more than 143,000 Americans. Nearly 30% of all new electric generation capacity installed across the country last year came from solar, said Resch, which was second only to gas.

"All totaled, solar is now generating enough clean, reliable and affordable electricity to effectively power nearly 2.5 million homes," Resch added.

Research published in the report also reveals that solar is a growing presence in many states’ energy mix. In California, for instance, solar power provided 18% of the state’s 22.7 GW of demand, with many other states seeing that percentage share inch upwards with every passing month.

The report also notes: "Solar energy is a solution technology that can provide a cost-effective, economically beneficial and integral part of a state’s effort to regulate carbon emissions from the electric sector. Solar’s rapidly falling prices and rapidly growing generating capacity, as well as the volatility of fossil fuel prices, give solar energy the potential to transform compliance with both new carbon emission requirements and other existing requirements under the Clean Air Act."

EPA, the report adds, has begun to recognize that greater carbon reduction measures are required if the U.S. is to achieve its new carbon emission targets, and suggests that solar will contribute more and more to a balanced portfolio of energy resources in the near- and longer-term. "By including solar energy as part of their §111(d) compliance plan, states can cost-effectively meet their Clean Air Act requirements while reaping a wide range of additional benefits," the report concludes.

An example of the proactive measures some states are taking in pushing solar PV growth was found in South Carolina last week when the House voted unanimously to approve a bill making it easier for householders to lease solar panels from third-party companies. "As our electricity rates have gone up and the costs of solar have come down, it’s an attractive proposition for a lot of people and a lot of businesses," said Hamilton Davis, Coastal Conservation League energy director. "But you have got to have your policies right – and South Carolina is now addressing a number of those policies."