Monday, September 10, 2012

Stimulus Works

Finally, we may be seeing the renewable energy debate ending, and the renewable energy era beginning:

U.S. solar-panel installations more than doubled in the second quarter from a year earlier led by demand in California, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Installations totaled 742 megawatts in the quarter, up 45 percent since the first quarter, and may reach 3.2 gigawatts by year end, the Washington-based trade group said today in its quarterly market report. California led installations with 217 megawatts, followed by Arizona with 173 megawatts.

The U.S. now has 5.7 gigawatts of installed solar capacity, enough to power 1 million homes, according to GTM Research, a Boston-based consulting company that prepared the report with SEIA.

The boom was driven by large projects that sell power to utilities, with little growth in residential installations and declines in non-residential projects, Shayle Kann, vice president at GTM, said in an interview Sept. 7. “It’s an indicator that the utility market will be the main story this year and probably for the next few years.”

What does this all mean? It means that commercial developers are finally hooked on being both energy independent and turning what had been a cost into a profit center. It means that the cost per megawatt to install solar panels is going to start coming down. The 3.2 gigawatts installed this year is the tip of the iceberg, as the US has about 13 gigawatts in planned solar installations under contract, with 3.4 gigawatts slated to go online in 2013.

Developers are the mission-critical market in terms of getting acceptance of solar energy in the United States. By deploying solar energy in office buildings, retail spaces and condo complexes, word of mouth at the consumer level will begin to build, and soon, you and I will be at The Home Depot, augmenting or even replacing our worn-out furnaces.

And we have President Obama to thank for all this. If he hadn't made a firm commitment to weaning the nation off foreign oil and backed that up with stimulus funding for the renewable energy industry (which has been growing in a nation where industries have taken a hard hit over the past thirty years), this would not be happening.