2017 is the time to go solar

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President,
Illinois Renewable Energy Association

Despite signs of an all-out pursuit of fossil fuels by the Trump administration, there are positive signs regarding solar energy. At the end of 2016 roughly six million homes in the US were powered by solar energy. With prices continuing to fall and efficiencies improving each new solar installation captures more value for its owner.

Solar also offers the opportunity for a measure of energy security while making a visible statement about concern for environmental quality including climate change. An additional measure of satisfaction comes from knowing that the energy invested in manufacturing a solar panel is produced by the panel in slightly more than a year.

As the solar industry is based on mass production improvements in its products and increasing economies of scale will continue to drive down prices which then increase demand. According to Julie Blunden writing for Greentech Media during the third quarter of 2016 module prices fell by one-third driving an expansion of sales.

She expects to see the same impact on batteries as consumer devices and electric vehicles drive up battery demand expanding production and lowering prices. She believes that energy storage will come far more quickly than is widely believed regardless of which political party is in control of Congress, the Presidency or Governorship. As battery prices fall adding energy storage to solar systems and disconnecting from the grid will accelerate.

Prospects for solar energy in Illinois have brightened with last December’s passage of the energy bill. Writing in Vox, David Roberts pointed out some key points in the massive bill including the “new build” requirements:

By 2020 an estimated 650 MW new wind and 1350 MW new solar, by 2025 1000 MW new wind and 2000 MW new solar and by 2030 an estimated 1350 MW new wind and 2700 MW new solar may be installed.

Of equal interest is how the money for new solar will be divided: 50 percent will go to distributed and community solar projects up to 2MW; up to half of that to small solar projects of under 10kW and half to mid-sized distributed solar projects from 10kW to 2MW. About 25 percent will go to to community solar programs which allow lower income customers and those without access to a suitable roof to invest in a solar project on a school or community center. The remaining 25 percent of the funds will be discretionary.

Approximately 40 percent will go to utility scale projects over 2 MW; 2 percent will be targeted at brownfields and 8 percent will be flexible.

Energy efficiency programs are also included with ComEd expected to reduce customer demand by 21.5 percent by 2030 and Ameren by 16 percent.

Part of the compromise is a consumer subsidy of two of Exelon’s nuclear plants to keep them open for 10 more years.

The solar revolution is being reinvigorated in Illinois in contrast to national efforts aimed at stimulating fossil fuels.

We know farm owners who have received letters of inquiry regarding their willingness to enter into lease agreements with a firm interested in installing utility scale solar farms on their properties.

Early efforts to develop utility scale installations in this area have proven controversial. It is possible that these new efforts will be, too.

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