clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Can solar cover 20% of U.S. energy needs in the next decade? These industry leaders think so

Solar energy industry leaders map ambitious plan for solar adoption

In this Feb. 26, 2015 photo, solar panels are shown in Rockford, Minn.
FILE - In this Feb. 26, 2015 photo, solar panels are shown in Rockford, Minn.
Jim Mone, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — While it may seem like an ambitious and overly lofty plan, leaders in the solar energy industry say they believe a variety of strategies will help get them to their goal of producing 20 percent of the U.S. energy demand in about a decade from now.

As of 2018, renewable energy accounted for 17% of energy generation in the United States, with solar accounting for just 1.6% of that, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

But Abby Hopper, president and chief executive officer of the Solar Energy Industries Association, detailed components of the Solar+Decade road map during National Energy Week being celebrated at North America’s largest energy show unfolding in Salt Lake City this week.

During the Monday opening of the four-day Solar Power International conference, Hopper said extension of the solar investment tax credit will be a crucial part of the success.

The federal production tax credit, which allows both residential and commercial installers to get credits for 30% of the system’s installation cost, is being phased out.

The credit will drop to 26% in 2020, 22% in 2021, and by 2026 a 10% tax credit will only be available for commercial systems.

The federal tax subsidy for all forms of renewable energy sat just shy of $7 billion in 2016, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Hopper said continuing the tax credit in its current form would deliver $50 billion in overall investment in 2030 alone and infuse an additional $87 billion in solar industry investment.

“We have been hard at work convincing the policymakers of the importance of extending” the tax credit, she said.

“The American solar success story is still being written,” Hopper added.

Hopper said there are four key components to the Solar+Decade roadmap that emphasize aggressive collaboration; market accelerators such as energy storage; market levers and policy drivers like extension of the tax credit or beefing up building codes; and managing growth of the solar industry itself.

“We have a bold vision for 2030,” she said, warning it would not be easy.

“Let me assure you it is going to be a war, not a battle,” she said, particularly the fight to keep the tax credits in place.

Paula Glover, president and chief executive officer of American Association of Blacks in Energy, said the growth in the solar industry needs to be inclusive of all households, in all neighborhoods, if it is to be key in solving issues of energy insecurity in the United States.

She pointed to a 2015 survey by the Energy Information Administration that found one in five households reported foregoing the purchase of medicine or food so they could pay their monthly electricity bill.

Fifty percent of African American households, the survey added, face that decision every month.

Glover said as an industry, it is not “holistically thinking about everyone” when it comes to growth opportunities to expand solar into more neighborhoods.

David Bywater, chief executive officer of Lehi-based Vivint Solar, told the crowd every facet of renewable energy growth is critical.

“It is about elevating the lives of our customers,” he said. “We are the drivers of this revolution.”

Stephanie Cutter, a political strategist and former deputy senior advisor to President Barack Obama, said what is key is messaging to get more public buy in on the attractiveness of solar energy.

“I’ve never seen the conversation so elevated around energy solutions and climate change,” she said, stressing, “but don’t assume people know how solar works.”

What the consumer may know about affordability is something he or she may have heard 10 years ago, so educating people on the new realities is a must.

The trade show continues through Thursday.