A company called inovateus solar has just issued a white paper called The Good News About Solar: Five Facts You Should Know, which is perfect timing because, although fossil fuels got quite a bit of notice during last night’s debate between President Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, solar power facts were in short supply. However, the two candidates did spend a lot of time talking about improving the climate for U.S. businesses, so let’s check into the five solar power facts offered up by this particular U.S. company (from South Bend, Indiana to be precise) and see how that relates to President Obama’s energy and economic policies.
Solar Fact #1: The U.S. Solar Industry Continues Strong Growth
According to the white paper, the global solar industry has averaged 40 percent growth per year for the past nine years, and the U.S. is up to more than 5,700 MW of installed solar capacity.
A nice chunk of the domestic growth is coming from job-creating public-private solar partnerships for new installations on federal property, especially as the Department of Defense aggressively pursues solar power with strong support from the Obama Administration.
Solar Fact #2: The Cost of Solar Continues to Drop Dramatically
Inovateus also notes that the average cost of solar panels dropped by an “astonishing” 50 percent in 2011 alone.
The installed cost of solar power is also dropping, but at a slower pace. That’s the bad news, since “soft costs” such as permits, installation, and grid connections can account for about half the overall cost of a rooftop solar array.
However, as part of President Obama’s SunShot initiative, the Department of Energy has formed partnerships with the private sector to bring down the soft costs of solar power. Part of that involves a juicy $10 million in prizes for winning DOE’s new “Most Affordable Rooftop Solar competition.
Solar Fact #3: Solar Power Creates Jobs
The white paper totals up more than 100,000 workers in the U.S. solar industry, or more than double the estimated employment in 2009.
That’s a pretty impressive record given the aftereffects of the 2008 economic collapse, and it’s no accident. When President Obama pushed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (aka “the stimulus”) through Congress in 2009, he didn’t get as much money as he wanted, but he did get enough to pump millions of dollars into solar projects that have created new green jobs, including a program for converting derelict brownfields to clean energy.
Solar Fact #4: Solar Incentives are Only a Fraction of Coal, Oil, and Gas Incentives
Inovateus notes that federal incentives are vital for U.S. businesses to compete in the global market, but current policies fall short.
That’s not for lack of trying. President Obama’s solid support for clean energy incentives such as the wind energy tax credit is well documented, but conservative leadership in Congress has resisted.
Solar Fact #5: Solar is an Essential Part of the Energy Mix
According the white paper, “solar is already the fastest growing energy sector in the US and by 2014 it will likely be the largest source of new electric capacity in America.”
Now, the wind industry might have a bone to pick with the latter part of that statement, considering wind’s epic growth over the past few years, but the undeniable fact is that clean energy is here to stay, and there is practically limitless potential for growth.
In the course of last night’s debate, Governor Romney took issue with what he described as an under-use of federal land for new fossil fuel development, but (aside from bending the facts) he ignored the big picture. The Obama Administration has opened up more federal lands for alternative energy development, so for what it’s worth, there has been and will be more exploitation of public property for energy production.
In the big picture, energy is energy, and if a new form of energy can do a better job than the old, then it’s out with the old and in with the new. Otherwise, horsepower in its literal form would be playing a far bigger role in the U.S. energy mix right now. Not a pretty picture, right?
Speaking of the big picture, clean energy is only one side of the job-creating coin. The other side is the Obama Administration’s pursuit of new federal fuel efficiency standards that create jobs, which did at least get some coverage in the debate.
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Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.