Support for PV: the U.S. compared to the world

United States losing ground in renewable market, renewable portfolios needed

• Efforts in California and Texas serve as examples for Illinois

Several recent columns have focused on the role of PV in our energy future. We support PV for the potential it holds as a decentralized source of electricity that can be integrated into buildings as glazing, roofing and siding for buildings.

Although the United States initiated the solar revolution, it is losing market share both within the country and globally. One factor that contributes to the loss of market share is the inability of U.S. firms to secure funding to expand productive capacity necessary to remain economically competitive. Firms and venture capitalists sit on the sidelines as Japan and the European Union push ahead with expansion plans.

The lack of consistent, substantial federal support also hurts the effort to compete in the marketplace. Two years ago, the European Union’s investment in renewables was $700 million, dwarfing the $43 million invested by the U.S. government. While we have yet to pass a renewable portfolio standard at federal and state levels, the United Kingdom made a commitment to obtain 10 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2010 and is considering a 15 percent target by 2015.

Germans consider energy security, global warming and oil depletion serious issues and are redesigning their energy policies accordingly.

Legislation going into effect this year makes it profitable for citizens to install PV systems. Grid-connected customers will be paid .457 Euros/kWh for 20 years for PV production. Additional incentives of .117 Euros/kWh will be paid for rooftop installations of less than 30 kW size and .093 Euros/kWh for systems above 30 kW. Facade treatments will get an additional .05 Euros/kWh. Germany has 400 MW of installed PV and expects to add another 200 MW this year as a result of the legislation according to Paul Gipe.

While the pending federal legislation is inadequate regarding renewables, Illinois citizens have reason for optimism. We are one of the top five states in the nation with renewable energy opportunities. Commonwealth Edison has what amounts to net metering and helpful policies to facilitate connecting renewable energy systems to the grid. But the state still needs a renewable energy portfolio standard.

Although federal legislation is important, much can be done on the local level. San Francisco passed a $100 million bond issue to fund renewable energy sources. Austin, Texas, recently passed legislation committing it to secure 20 percent of its energy from renewable energy sources and another 15 percent from conservation practices by 2020. They will also offer solar rebates of $5 per watt for installations. Solar demonstrations will be placed in schools, libraries and community centers to raise citizen awareness of the role solar energy can play in their lives.

These facilities are used by large numbers of residents, making them excellent sites to educate the public. By the end of 2004, Chicago will have 100 “zero net energy” (over a year, producing as much electricity as it uses) solar homes for moderate income families.

There is still time to contact your federal representatives to encourage more federal funds for renewable energy and efficiency. Also, encourage local political leaders to take significant local actions to stem the flow of energy dollars out of your communities while putting local people to work enhancing local energy security.

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