Finally, Installation of Solar Panels at the White House is a Reality

Solar Panels on White House

As of August 2013, solar panels have been installed on the White House

In 2010, President Barack Obama’s then-Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced that a demonstration of a commitment to increasing renewable power would take place in the form of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels and solar hot water being installed on the roof of the White House. Fast forward to now, August of 2013, and it has happened. It took 40 months, but solar panels are now installed on the White House roof. And, incidentally, business owners and homeowners across the U.S. have also installed solar on their rooftops since 2010 to the extent that solar power has quadrupled during Obama’s administration.

Advocates of solar energy, to a large extent, are more frustrated than congratulatory about the new White House solar panels. After all, as many see it, Obama has not provided an example of leadership to Americans by the way the solar project has been delayed. There are also many initiatives he could have implemented as President which would have made much more significant advancements to solar, many argue. And there is no denying that Obama is far more famous for the failure of Solyndra, a bankrupt solar manufacturing company which received a $535 million federal loan guarantee, than he is for an increase in U.S. solar installations.

While they can’t all be attributed to Obama, let’s look at various solar advancements which have taken place during his Presidential term:

  • The capacity for electricity generation with solar technologies is close to four times what it was when President Obama took office.
  • In 2012 alone, solar power capacity in the U.S. was increased by 3.3 gigawatts, which is a stunning amount. New solar power capacity that was added last year was greater than the previous three years combined – and they also marked great solar strides.
  • President George Bush signed an 8 year Investment Tax Credit into law in 2008, but few utilized the tax credit during his tenure due to the global recession that was underway at the time. The Section 1603 Treasury Grant Program (TGP) took the 30% investment tax credit and allowed the credit to be claimed as a grant for renewable energy project developers. In short, developers which did not have tax equity access were able to claim the tax credit at the startup of construction, which benefited the solar industry tremendously. In fact, in solar projects encompassing all 50 states, awards were made to about 44,000 domestic solar projects which leveraged over $7.17 billion in private sector investments as of September 2012.
  • Solar IncentivesIn spite of serious economic downturns in the U.S., the solar industry has grown enormously, due to the TGP, in large part.
  • It is estimated that the TGP has supported approximately 60,000 jobs in recent years.
  • Stimulus funding in the amount of $16 billion went to fund the pre-existing Loan Guarantee Programs of the U.S. Department of Energy. A full 87% of this huge sum of money backed loans mostly to solar and wind power generation projects. Only a small part of the funds funded technology start-ups such as Solyndra.

The story of solar power being installed at the White House has previously been a dismal one. For example, President Carter installed solar panels and President Reagan had them removed. Let’s hope the panels now installed are there to stay and that the current and future administrations will take a stronger lead in advancing a switch to solar power and other renewable energy sources.

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Race to the Rooftops is a Contest Aimed at Reducing Solar Installation Costs, in Michigan and the other 49 states

Rooftop Solar Energy System InstallationWhile solar panels have dropped in price significantly, rooftop installations can still be too big of an expense for homeowners due to non-hardware costs such as interconnection, inspection, and permitting. The federal government has recognized this as being a hindrance to greater solar growth. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is currently sponsoring a competition called SunShot Prize: Race to the Rooftops which awards up to $10 million in cash for the first three teams that consistently demonstrate that they can make solar installations with an average cost of $1 per watt (W) for non-hardware costs, such as those mentioned above.

In spite of the recent, unprecedented, and substantial cost reductions for solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, the price to get solar plugged in can be as much as half of the total cost for residential as well as small commercial PV systems. The greatest challenge to achieving competitiveness for solar installations by 2020 is enabling dramatic reductions in “soft costs” or non-hardware costs of solar systems.

The SunShot Prize aims to direct the attention and efforts of solar inventors and innovators at solving this challenge of steep soft costs. The winning teams will achieve non-hardware costs averaging $1 per watt in the installation of 2 to 15 kilowatt rooftop PV systems during Phase 1 of the competition. The second phase of the competition aims to assess business sustainability of the winning teams and calls for an additional 1,000 qualifying systems to be installed.

Among the solar panel manufacturers interested in winning the $10 million prize are some in Michigan, where making a profit on the installation of panels remains a challenge. Some of the hindrances they are trying to overcome include:

  • Many people in Michigan don’t seem to realize that there is enough sunshine in the state to make solar power a worthwhile investment.
  • The utility companies in Michigan provide sharp limits to how much power can be bought back from solar power systems that are privately owned.
  • No state solar tax incentives are offered.
  • Permitting standards for solar technology are frequently unknown to local officials.
  • Being a winner of the SunShot Prize will mean charging no more than $2,000 for soft costs for a $2,000-watt (2 kW) solar PV system, no more than $10,000 for a 10-kw system, and so on.

Expanding Solar PV System InstallationsWhat the Department of Energy is hoping will come of this competition is that new subsidy-free ways will be found to cut the following costs related to the installation of a solar PV system:

  • Labor
  • Permitting
  • Local inspection
  • Utility connection
  • System design
  • Marketing costs
  • Sales commission

Contestants are encouraged to work with utility companies, communities, local agencies, and installers to make installation, permitting, and interconnection a more streamlined process.

An overarching goal of the SunShot Initiative is ultimately to make solar power a competitive form of electricity by 2020. When the contest is over in late 2015, the plan is to discover, adopt, and broadcast the best methods for reducing by more than 65% the soft costs associated with installing solar PV systems.

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2011- A Solar Odyssey

Cue the kettle drums and start playing the music from 2001, a Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick.
2011 was a banner year for the growth of solar in the U.S., Canada and around the world. Solar technology is being embraced and adopted by more and more residential solar consumers and small businesses every day. We are continuing to set records every month it seems in the number of Solar PV and Solar Thermal installations that are being added.

GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), who made a recent U.S. Solar Marketplace Insight report, estimate the U.S. solar market’s complete value surpassed $ 8.4 billion in 2011.

Along with increasing demand, system prices fell 20 percent because of lower priced components, better installation methods and the shift to larger arrays. Price drops for manufacturers became an installer boom. With the expiring 1603 program from the US treasury many developers pushed to get their projects done quickly. The 1603 program was set up to allow renewable energies to get 30 percent of the cost of a new project back as a cash grant as soon as the construction was completed.

Over 61,000 solar PV systems were installed in 2011, bringing the total to about 214,000.

California led the nation, installing 542 megawatts of solar. But the No. 2 overall market, New Jersey with 313 megawatts, installed the most solar energy in commercial projects of any state: about 227 megawatts to California’s 195. Solar is growing in every state in the U.S. and every province in Canada too. As traditional energy production costs increase, solar parity is being approached much quicker than expected. The fact that solar works well across Northern latitudes is also dispelling the myth that solar is only good for warmer climates. Germany actually leads the world in solar installations and they have just about the same amount of sunshine as Alaska! Their latitude is also farther north than most of the continental U.S.

In a nutshell, a record 1,855 megawatts (MW) of solar PV were added, This doubles the previous record set in 2010, and represents a 109 percent growth rate worldwide.

At the end of 2011 the United States powered almost a million homes with solar power. This is comprised of 4,000 MW of solar PV and 500 MW of concentrating solar. This makes the US the fourth largest solar market in the world after Germany, Italy, and China.

In 2009, two US states generated above 50 MW of solar power each. That set increased to five in 2010. It reached an all time high of eight states in 2011.

Clearly, the solar industry is growing. It can be seen from a production standpoint and an installation standpoint. If renewable energy isn’t its own reward, certainly employment is. Solar power employed over 100,000 people in over 5000 companies over the fifty states.

Inspiration flourished as well in 2011 as well as a group of MIT students came up with a way to use 3-D structures to better extend photovoltaic cells upward in a 3-D configuration that will help better maximize power output. Amazingly, the results from the structures they’ve tested show power output ranging from double to more than 20 times that of fixed flat panels with the same base area.

Innovations like these and increased recognition in the marketplace, joined with competitive pricing just continue to show the increasingly bright future for solar energy.

The United States could rise from the shadow of fossil fuel dependence quickly if the type of growth seen in 2011 continues. In fact, making the US a 100% solar nation would create nearly 10 million jobs and add as much as $450 billion to the economy according to John Farrell of the Institute for Self Reliance.

The sky is the limit! Well, actually no… there is no limit.

Learn more about how Solar Photovoltaic / Solar PV / Solar Electric actually works.

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