Harnessing the power of the sun sounds like an idea that’s straight out of a comic book. There is actually a little known caped crusader in the DC universe, Sun Boy, whose powers are dependent upon solar energy. However, humans and the sun have a very real, longstanding relationship. Day in and day out, the sun works to keep our planet running. It holds this spinning blue marble in orbit, while giving the world heat and light, and allowing crops to grow. However, the modern industrial revolution ushered in energy powered by non-renewable resources.
Homes that are now lit and kept warm with the turn of a switch, and transportation, either personal, commercial, or municipal, has been made possible with the use of fossil fuels and coal. After well over a century of doing things one way, companies like the commercially popular SolarCityare making headlines with solar energy. Unbeknownst to the public, the expanding and increasing strength of the solar energy market has been 40 years in the making.
Since the organization’s inception, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) has worked towards one goal: a clean future. Together with installers, developers, manufacturers, contractors, environmental advocates, financiers, and philanthropists, the SEIA has been pivotal in making solar technology an option in both industrial, commercial and residential markets. Harnessing the power of many minds is just as important as harnessing the power of the sun. That’s why, once a year, the Solar Power International (SPI) 2015 has been the choice meeting ground for leaders in the solar energy sector.
Since its inaugural cosponsored solar expo in 1975, the SPI has become the largest ranked solar trade show in North America. This year’s trade show was hosted September 14-17 in Anaheim, CA. All participants and exhibitors met in order to champion the use of clean and affordable solar in America in a part classroom, part expo hall environment.
This year’s themes included inverters and electric car charging, the rise of single and dual axis tracker options, and new battery energy storageoptions. However, the news that has everyone’s attention is the potential effect that the 2016 expiration of the Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) will have on the US solar industry.
A Call to Save the Solar Investment Tax Credit
The ITC is a 30% tax credit for solar systems on residential and commercial properties. Since the tax credit’s implementation in 2006 and multiple extensions, solar installation has grown over 1,600%. Arzon Solar, a leading designer and manufacturer of concentrator photovoltaic solar power systems and just one of the nearly 1,000 companies in attendance, believes that the ITC is crucial to its growing industry. “Preservation of the ITC is very important to the health of the solar industry in the US, which is why work to ensure continuation of the ITC was front and center at the conference,” said Arzon Solar’s VP of Engineering, Adam Plesniak. “The solar industry is really just getting started, and the removal of the ITC in Dec, 2016 could really throw cold water on a very promising new industry.”
Embracing Our Solar Roots
Attempts to harness the sun’s power dates back as early as 7th Century BC. Ancient water purification techniques completely relied on the sun’s rays. Greenhouses have been in use since Roman times. The Chinese were the first to plan their towns around the east to west movement of the sun to best provide inhabitants with natural light and warmth.
While the concept of using the sun’s rays as a primary energy source is hardly new, the modern solar industry’s main competition, fossil fuels, meets 82% of the US energy demand. However, utility companies like Edison and DWP have begun to expand their residential solar programs due to the growing concerns surrounding greenhouse gas pollution and climate change.
At SPI 2015, Dave Panish, President of Sun Energy, an engineering companydeveloping innovative solar products for commercial rooftop and ground bound utility scale market segments, also saw an increased interest in commercial rooftop space and community and shared solar programs. “Those programs are gaining momentum, which will allow for more people and more businesses to take advantage of solar, even if they don’t have direct access,” said Panish. “They can be part of a larger project and still be involved in clean energy. It was apparent at the show too that there is momentum and more interest in creating these community and shared solar programs.”
Clean Energy for All
Unlike fossil fuels, which are heavily controlled commodities, the sun is available to anyone. It’s a unique characteristic of solar energy that makes the industry attractive for financial and political reasons. “One element of solar that continues to keep me excited is its inherent democratic nature,” said Plesniak, who is also Managing Director of the Orange County Chapter of the American Solar Energy Society, OC Renewables. “Traditional sources of energy can be controlled via mineral rights by a government or company, because the energy source is geographically restricted. However the sun shines everywhere and you have the choice to capture it and use it as you see fit, with or without a middleman.”
Beyond regulations and our monthly utility bill, there has also been an increase in a sense of environmental responsibility. The SEIA, along with its membership and external stakeholders, developed the Solar Industry Commitment to Environmental & Social Responsibility. The first of its kind, The Solar Commitment, although a voluntary document, is a corporate guide developed and used by the industry to promote environmental and social responsibility. The White House, with the 2015 release of the Clean Power Plan, are ensuring that states develop and implement alternative low or no emission energy sources in order to meet proposed regulations.
One aspect of solar innovation that has seen continued improvement at SPI 2015 is a crucial one: financing. “There is more financing available for commercial projects also in the commercial and industrial space,” said Panish. “That was a thing that had been lacking: low-cost financing. Now, there are more third party financiers willing to play in that smaller space.”
A Bright Future for a Growing Industry
The movement towards a sustainable, environmentally conscious future has put solar energy on the map. Whether looking for an alternative energy source to power your home or investingin the industry’s growth potential, solar energy continues, through events like SPI 2015, to be embraced by both individuals and businesses. “It is going to be great to see how our energy system changes,” said Plesniak, “to recognize the wonderful benefits of deep solar and renewable energy adoption.”
For more information about The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), visit http://www.seia.org.
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