Interview with Tom Kimbis of SEIA — Summary

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solar power growth

Our Google+ “hangout” interview with Tom Kimbis, SEIA’s Vice President of Strategy and External Affairs, just wrapped up. Here’s a short summary of it:

Update: after Tom’s review, a few things have been corrected. Also, an updated chart will son replace the one at the bottom of the page.

Well, the interview started with some technical problems, unfortunately, but we ended up getting them fixed and got to ask Tom several questions, for which he responded with some good and useful feedback. Several people popped in during the course of the interview — thank you for that and for contributing questions.

Question (reader): “I’d like to know what he feels are the most reliable data sources for installed solar, both utility/commercial and residential. And what the best price sources are. Where should mere mortals look for the best, most reliable data?”

Answer: Tom mentioned SEIA’s collaboration with GTM Research and their quarterly U.S. Solar Market Insight report. As you probably know, we report on this regularly. Here are our 3 posts on the most recent report, which came out last month:

  1. Solar Industry on Solyndra, Tremendous Job Growth (100,000 US Jobs Now), & Doubling of Installed PV
  2. US Solar Industry Adds Jobs at 6.8% Pace
  3. New Jersey Surpasses California for Commercial Solar Power

Question (me): I asked about how we should approach current political uncertainty in this arena, mentioning that while over 90% of Americans support governmental policies promoting solar energy (it’s wildly popular), there is opposition to government support for solar in some portions of Congress.

Answer: Tom mentioned what we have written about many times here on CleanTechnica, that the energy industry has received government support for a long, long time, and for good reason — it’s important for our economy. The solar energy isn’t looking for any more support than the rest of the energy industry gets, just an even playing field. He also talked about the jobs (over 100,000) the solar industry now supports and the rapid growth of the solar industry over the past few years, which is partly due to a few supportive government policies, most importantly the 1603 Treasury Grant program (which costs the government essentially nothing). He also mentioned that solar should be an apolitical issue since it works in all fifity states, creates jobs with little investment, promotes our national security — and therefore should be something anyone on either side of the aisle should support. Lastly, he mentioned the fact that the U.S. solar industry was a net exporter last year, something many industries cannot claim (and the U.S. as a whole hasn’t been able to claim since the late 1960s).

Question (reader): A reader on the call, Ian Thomas, asked Tom what he thought of Connecticut’s new ZREC bill — what Tom knew or thought about it. (I think this was the question, more or less, but feel free to correct this in the comments, Ian.)

Answer: Tom wasn’t sure which bill, in particular, Ian was referencing, but he replied by mentioning the great value of properly structured SREC markets and how they’ve helped states install so much solar power (e.g. Massachusetts and New Jersey). However, he also discussed how important it is to get the specifics of these right, so as to sustainably AND effectively stimulate solar installations.

Question (reader): From a CleanTechnica reader: “Recently I read that someone in the industry stated that they will be ready to give up subsidies in about five years (by 2016 was the statement, I think). His reaction?”

Answer: If the government decided to end support for solar after 2016, it would have to do so for competing sectors of the energy industry (e.g. coal, oil, gas, and nuclear) as well. If other portions of the industry receive steady support, solar should as well. While there are different ideologies about how government should interact with energy industries, the bottom line is that it should do so in a fair way, meaning that if one industry gets support from government, others should receive the same.

[There was another question and answer in here that is missing]:

Question (me): So, what do you think the industry need politically to reach its goals.

Answer: We need an extension of the 1603 Treasury Program that expires at the end of this year. It has created tens of thousands of jobs and stimulated economies in towns across America. The 1603 program, as he emphasized, has been extremely successful and does not pick winners and losers.

From SEIA’s page on the matter: ”As of June 29, 2011, the 1603 Treasury Program has awarded 2,657 grants totaling $1.18 billion for more than 6,300 individual solar projects in 45 states and has supported over $3.9 billion in private investment. The manufacturing and construction associated with these solar energy projects has supported roughly 45,000 U.S. jobs (direct, indirect and induced) in the solar industry.”

Question (me): The U.S. was ranked #1 earlier this year for solar energy investment attractiveness in an annual Ernst & Young index on the matter. I asked if Tom thought this ranking still held true after the blown-out-of-proportion Solyndra situation and despite the massive amounts of money China is investing in the industry (it doubled its 2010 solar power capacity target in June).

Answer: Tom mentioned that others have also been ranking the U.S. at the top in this respect and that there is still a ton of promise for the U.S. solar energy industry. Basically, that hasn’t changed. While stating that the U.S. could rise to the top globally in a few years, in total installed solar, he acknowledged that China is also putting a lot of money into this industry.


Question: The last question of the interview was a fun one: “I’d like to hear his ‘best guess’ as to the year that solar first provides 1% of all US electricity. The first one is the hardest….”

Answer: Referencing SEIA solar growth projections to 2015 (something the graph at the top of the page, which I’ve posted many times, covers), Tom’s guess is that we will hit that 1% by 2015.

(Since I’m paraphrasing, I’ll invite Tom to read over these summaries and clarify wherever he wishes.)


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Zachary Shahan

Zach 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 Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], ChargePoint [CHPT], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], Albemarle Corporation [ALB], Nouveau Monde Graphite [NMGRF], Talon Metals [TLOFF], Arclight Clean Transition Corp [ACTC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.

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