Roundtables USA: Accelerating solar deployment – video now available


Solar industry leaders from across the United States and the globe gathered in an informative and especially timely virtual event as the pv magazine Roundtables USA took place on November 9. 

As the U.S. and global solar markets rapidly recover from disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, a vision of optimal, resilient solar PV solutions to speed decarbonization and tackle the existential climate challenge was shared. Through a total of six hours of curated sessions that were moderated by Senior U.S. Editor David Wagman, U.S. Editor Tim Sylvia, global Editor in Chief Jonathan Gifford, and Associate Editor Ryan Kennedy, equipment manufacturers, researchers, policymakers, and other stakeholders shared their view of how to accelerate deployment in pursuit of national and global goals.

Session two focuses on strategies to deploy solar rapidly under a changing landscape. Watch here:

Session 2: Accelerating solar deployment

Garrett Nilsen, acting director of the U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Energy Technologies Office opened the second session, outlining the Biden Administration's clean energy goals with a focus on solar energy, and the related initiatives DOE is pursuing.

Next, a panel of four led a talk titled “Lead, follow, or get out of the way: What solar needs to expand.” Panel members who were interviewed by David Wagman and Tim Sylvia included Suzanne Leta, head of policy and strategy for SunPower; Dean Solon founder of Shoals Technologies Group; Elizabeth Sanderson, executive director of  Solar Energy International; and Paul Wormser, vice president of technology for Clean Energy Associates.

The group covered a range of subjects, including highlights of the DOE-backed SolarAPP+, an automated permitting app that is slashing residential solar permit wait times. A call for greater diversity in the solar workforce was shared, as only 30% of the workforce are women, and only 8% are Black. It also weighed in on how the U.S. may be able to expand its solar manufacturing base and over what period of time.

Michael Parr, director of the Ultra Low Carbon Solar Alliance, spoke in a one-on-one interview with David Wagman and addressed the environmental footprint of solar. He shared that about 70-90% of global solar manufacturing is located in China, where solar has near double the carbon emission intensity in its production process. He advocated for a more dispersed and geographically diverse manufacturing supply chain. He said that market forces will continue to be the strongest driver in decarbonizing solar products and that buyers must actively select low-carbon module sourcing.

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Following this interview, heterojunction module maker Recom offered a video presentation featuring Hamlet Tunyan, CEO, and Vartan Oskanian, advisor to the CEO. The company combines silicon and thin-film technologies in its modules and offers extra levels of transparency in its supply chain origination. Recom module whitepapers trace the location the materials were sourced from and track the total carbon emission output for each component in the module.

From PV modules to energy storage

Moving from modules to energy storage, the Roundtables covered the emergence of the alkaline battery as a low-cost, safe alternative to lithium-ion batteries. Joining Tim Sylvia in the discussion were Ann Marie Augustus, co-founder and VP of operations at Urban Electric Power, and George Schulz VP of clean energy at Ariel Re.

Schulz said that project insurance underwriting has come under pressure from issues like a thermal runway of batteries, and new technologies are difficult to accurately underwrite. Safety of energy storage, in particular, will continue to be an important issue, and data transparency will be important in limiting risks for all.

The Roundtables then turned to the future and solar cleantech innovations in the drive to a decarbonized future. Taking part in this panel were Massoud Amin of the University of Minnesota, solar energy leader Karl Rabago, Chris Gordon, project development manager at EDF Renewables North America, and Marlene Motyka, the U.S. and global renewable energy leader at Deloitte.

As nations reach higher levels of renewable energy penetration on the grid, power distribution will become increasingly important. The panel pointed out that generation should be located near load centers for greater efficiency and reliability, but this comes with a set of high-land cost and zoning issues and NIMBYism. It was concluded that a blend of utility-scale projects and distributed solar would be both the lowest-cost and fastest way to deploy at scale while keeping resiliency and flexibility in mind.

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