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Published on June 1st, 2011 | by Zachary Shahan


Small- AND Large-Scale Solar Needed

June 1st, 2011 by  

solar panels southwest us

Well, I don’t think it will come as much surprise, but following up on a CleanTechnica post from last month on the merits of small-scale solar compared to large-scale solar, I thought I’d share parts of a new piece by Solar Energy Industries Association President & CEO Rhone Resch on why we need both (with a little commentary of my own). Here’s a key quote from the piece:

A few people argue that a rooftop-only approach is the way to deploy solar energy in America. It’s true that residential and commercial deployment of solar will be a critical piece of America’s energy portfolio going forward. But to meet growing energy demand and decrease harmful emissions, we must embrace all solar energy applications, from rooftop photovoltaic and solar thermal installations on our homes and businesses to utility-scale projects on public and private lands.

This is the bottom line — if we want to cut carbon emissions as fast as possible (which we should!), we need to invest in all forms of renewable energy that we can. Getting solar on rooftops is great! Decentralized solar is great! I don’t know if there’s a single better option. And I totally support the various pros of it over large-scale solar that Aaron pointed out. But getting enough solar rooftops up to supply all or most of our power needs isn’t going to happen, at least not in the time period needed to address the critical issues we are facing.

Here’s more from Resch (the intro to his piece):

Last year, while everyone was focused on a slow economic recovery, the U.S. solar energy boomed in all sectors — residential, commercial property and utility-scale. And there are significant amounts of new solar energy coming with the advancement of several utility-scale projects.

Finally, U.S. policymakers and consumers are looking at all forms of solar energy — including utility-scale solar — to meet our nation’s growing energy needs. Late last year, the federal government issued the first nine permits ever for solar power plants on public lands. To put that in perspective, 74,000 permits were issued for oil and gas drilling on public lands over the past 20 years.

These projects underwent an extensive environmental review process that considered potential impacts on sensitive habitatwater resources and land. Every project approved for development on public land has gone through this rigorous, multi-year process. Additionally, solar project developers are proactively advancing projects in a way that does not severely impact sensitive resources.

All great points (he’s in the position he’s in for a reason). While I think protecting endangered plants and animals is truly very important and don’t want big projects to impose on their habitat too much, we all need to realize that we need to see a massive expansion of solar power in order to address global climate change and prevent massive species loss and suffering that would result from that. Big projects like these are necessary.

Of course, being sensitive about where we site solar and how we do so is important and it’s good that the government, public, and solar companies are and continue to be so.

But the bottom line, again, is that we need diversity in our solar expansion. We need utility-scale solar projects that can power tens of thousands of homes, and we need continued explosion of rooftop solar across the country. We are seeing that growth, and as Resch points out, that helps everyone:

One of the reasons we are building such a robust market is diversity: we have strong residential, commercial and utility-scale markets. The residential and commercial markets in the United States cannot maintain their robust growth without a strong utility-scale market. We won’t meet our energy goals with only a building-by-building approach to solar energy deployment.

With this rapid growth, solar manufacturing in the United States is continuing to ramp up production. Just last week, Suntech announced that it would add a third shift at its Goodyear, Arizona factory to keep pace with demand. Much of their product goes to utility-scale developers, but scaling up production drives down equipment costs for residential and commercial installers too.

The result is that the installed cost of solar continues to decline, allowing more Americans to put solar on their homes and businesses. Simply put, strength in all three market segments — residential, commercial and utility-scale — reinforces the strength in the others.

All of this is good for our economy, good for jobs, good for the environment, and good for people.

Related Stories:

  1. Unprecedented UN Report: Renewable Energy Costs to Drop, Use to Grow Substantially by 2030, but…
  2. Rooftop Solar Installations Growing Faster than Utility-Scale Solar
  3. Why Big Solar is a Colossally Bad Idea (10 Reasons Decentralized Solar is Much Better)
  4. International Solar PV Nearly Doubled, PV Growth Doubled in 2010
  5. Cleantech’s Revolutionary Growth & Expectations for Coming 10 Years
  6. Historic Report: Solar Energy Costs Now Lower than Nuclear Energy
  7. Solar Power Almost as Cheap as Natural Gas in Six States

Photo via CFBSr 


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About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in NIO [NIO], Tesla [TSLA], and Xpeng [XPEV]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.

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