The first day of the 10th Annual Solar Power International Conference is in the books and after an exhausting day of walking the exhibit floor (all three of them!) I am left with an overwhelming impression - renewable energy in general and solar power in particular constitute the wave of the future and that wave is breaking now! But please take note - our friends in Asia, especially China and Korea, already get this big time. The number of solar panel manufacturers present here from Asia is nothing short of astounding. While I have no idea who is buying their product (with the exception of world-class producers like Suntech), it is apparent that other countries, especially China, are invested heavily in their solar industry for both domestic and foreign consumption.
Which got me thinking. Solar advocates and other environmentally enlightened folks tout the clean-tech jobs that derive from the solar industry - whether by way of installation or manufacturing. Yet those manufacturing jobs are facing a constant threat from thoroughly engaged foreign competitors - as was amply demonstrated today - who receive serious subsidies from governments that are not at all confused about where their long-term interest lies. And while it is true that the installation jobs cannot be outsourced, they could certainly be reduced or eliminated by the adoption of short-sighted policies like Prop 23.
Attending a conference like SPI is always exciting as you meet your colleagues from around the world who share your vision and your passion. But progress is not guaranteed. It requires sound public policy that will support this industry, even in the face of an economic downturn. Our competitors are building for the future - let’s not let some out-of-state special interests who make their money off our addiction to fossil fuels drag us back into the economy of the past.
I’ve said it before and for the next three weeks I’ll keep saying it:
Vote No on Prop 23!
Just in time for the start of the 10th Annual Solar Power International Conference - kicking off today in downtown Los Angeles - the LA Times this morning is reporting on the push to bring the economic sanity of feed-in tariffs to the United States for individual solar installations.
According to the article:
A July study by UC Berkeley researchers estimated that a feed-in tariff program could create 28,000 clean-tech jobs each year for a decade, as well as generate more than $2 billion in tax revenue and pump more than $50 billion in new private investment to the state.
That is 280,000 clean-tech jobs over the next ten years in California from one enlightened policy alone. Rolling the program out across the country would produce even more clean-tech jobs and even more economic development. Germany has done this for years - which explains why they have four times as much installed solar as the US, even though they get a fraction of the sunlight we get and are one-twentieth our size. So what is the holdup?
Sadly, but not surprisingly, the utilities - particularly LADWP - seem to be dragging their feet, saying “the Devil is in the details,” that the process is “much more complicated than anyone acknowledges,” and that we need to proceed in a “sober” fashion.
Seriously? Come on, folks, we already interconnect small solar installations to the grid and net meter those systems. A feed-in tariff like the one in Germany would simply require the utility to pay for every kilowatt hour generated at a premium price. How hard is that? Given a set price for an extended period - typically 20 years - would give homeowners and business owners alike the economic certainty to make the US the world leader in installed solar.
At least one city seems to get it. Again from the article:
A feed-in tariff program is particularly appealing to residents of Palm Desert. For many homeowners there, the highest expense after the mortgage payment is the power bill, which often hits $1,000 a month.
If homeowners and businesses could easily earn back the cost of solar panels, demand would skyrocket and clean-tech development companies would flock to Palm Desert, said [Jim] Ferguson, the mayor pro tem.
“Solar isn’t a luxury for us — it’s a lifeline,” he said.
We couldn’t agree more!