1. "In June, the Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research released the U.S. Solar Market Insight: 1st Quarter 2011 report showing that in the last three years the U.S. solar industry has gone from a start-up to a major industry that is creating well-paying jobs and growing the economy in all 50 states.

    Solar’s robust growth in the past years has been the result of a very favorable combination of new, innovative business models, affordability for consumers, rapidly decreasing manufacturing costs, and most importantly, a strong commitment from the Obama Administration and other policymakers in Washington.

    In the first quarter of 2011, the solar industry installed 252 megawatts of new solar electric capacity, a 66 percent growth from the same time frame in 2010. There are now almost 3,000 megawatts of solar electric energy installed in the U.S., enough to power 600,000 homes. In the manufacturing sector, solar panel production jumped 31 percent.

    And with the growth of the solar industry, thousands of jobs have been created. In fact, solar energy creates more jobs per megawatt than any other energy source. According to the Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census, 93,000 Americans were employed in the U.S. solar industry in 2010 and that number is expected to grow between 25-50,000 this year.

    The Obama Administration has taken solar energy initiatives to unprecedented levels and is leading the effort to win our clean energy future.”

    — The White House

  2. Solar Industry is Still Expected to Shine Brightly Through Criticism

    By Sarah Kiner

    The House of Representatives, mostly Republican-led, is determined to cut spending and possible future subsidies for solar power and clean energy by focusing attention to reduce or eliminate federal grant and loan guarantee programs.

    The solar industry is concerned about the possibility of losing grant or loans because programs like the U.S. Treasury grant program are expected to expire this year (this is the program that helped keep solar power alive through the recession). Also, the Energy Department loan guarantee program that is ending on October 1 has allotted $35 billion in loan guarantees for solar, wind, geothermal and other clean energy projects, producing more than 68,000 jobs.

    Even though clean energy has provided so many jobs, the anticipation for a national clean energy standard is fading in Congress because delegates are debating about what kind of energy sources America should use. This deliberation in Congress could stall the advancement of solar energy, but solar energy has become increasingly more prevalent, so the threat will not cause this form of energy to dwindle down.

    According to Solar Energy Industries Association, solar energy alone employs 100,000 Americans and last year alone, solar power has grown by 67% last year. This growth has proven to be faster than any other U.S. industry.

    Opponents to solar believe that the solar industry should be self-reliant in the energy market, without the help of taxpayers. Yet solar supporters consider it unfair to have solar be in the energy market without the aid of the government because for decades the federal government subsidized coal, oil, gas, and nuclear energy. The U.S. government has supported nuclear and clean-coal technology research, oil drilling tax incentives, and helped finance dams for hydropower. Now it is time for solar to get some help.

    Richard Caperton, an energy analysis with the center for American Progress, says:

    If we stop spending money on some very cost-effective programs for clean energy, all it’s going to do is put clean energy at an even bigger competitive disadvantage.

    It is true that solar and wind power are the most costly ways to generate electricity, yet solar’s cost is dropping as it becomes more efficient and as the industry expands. In fact, the average price to install a solar power system has fell by 20% nationwide from the beginning of 2010 to the end of the year.

    (Source: USA Today)

  3. Making Something Out of Nothing: Waste Sites to Renewable Energy Plants

    By Sarah Kiner

    This summer, the Philadelphia Navy Shipyard will be transformed into the largest solar yard in Philadelphia. Before the start of the construction, the shipyard has not been used since 1970 when the last ship was built. This forgotten space with crumbling cinder blocks has the capacity to produce 1.3 megawatts of power after this $5.6 million project is completed sometime in the year of 2012. The Philadelphia Navy Ship Yard will also be able to power 300 homes and supply 50 construction jobs, with 10 of these jobs becoming stable maintenance jobs.

    Projects like this have been built in other places across the country, like a concentrating solar photovoltaic array on the tailings pile of a former molybdenum mine in Questa, New Mexico; solar panels powering the cleanup systems at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s Superfund site in northern California; and the U.S. Army’s largest solar array atop a former landfill in Fort Carson, Colorado. Chase Huntley, a policy advisor on energy and climate change for the nonprofit Wilderness Society, explains:

    It’s an untapped opportunity to not just deliver cleanup to some of these contaminated or previously contaminated sites, but to recycle our industrial legacy in making progress toward a cleaner energy future.

    The EPA believes that there are 490,000 wastelands, or “brownfields,” within our nation, mostly found in industrial areas. About 110,000 of these sites, covering 15 million acres, have been assessed to discover their energy potential. Developing all of these brownfields into clean energy projects would account for 1 million megawatts of electricity, adding up to the total U.S. electricity generating capacity.

    A state in the U.S. that is enthusiastic about taking these brownfields and turning into renewable energy plants is Michigan. Michigan State University predicts that 5,855 megawatts of wind and solar power could be produced, providing enough energy to power half of the homes found in Michigain. It will also attract $15 billion in investments and 17,000 jobs, something that is much needed in this state.

    Some concerns brought forth about these brownfields turning into solar or wind power sites is that normally solar power arrays only lasts for 20 or 30 years, so if the area around these sites become more populated other uses, like houses or businesses could have been built instead. Also, finding the necessary permits and funding to build on these sites might become a challenge. The liability that goes along with building over a contaminated site is a large concern because it is still unknown who should pay to clean up the site. To ease this concern the EPA has decided to give out “comfort letters” to ease the fears and give guidance to developers about how to avoid liability issues.

    The U.S. government is working to make these projects more prevalent. U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg (D—NJ) introduced both the Cleanfields Act and the Cleanfields Investment Act as ways to spur conversion of brownfields which would give incentives for renewable in contaminated sites and give $50 million annually for brownfield sites to be developed. These acts were both shut down in committee, so there are no acts like this currently in Congress.

  4. No fossil fuels, no nuclear, no renewables?

    Today’s energy and environment headlines have me wondering … where the heck are we supposed to get our energy? TreeHugger tells us that Denmark is saying ‘goodbye’ to fossil fuels, The Guardian confirms that nuclear is being phased out in Germany, and USA TODAY suggests renewables won’t be the solution because a Republican-led House is set to destroy clean energy loans and subsidies.

    This worries me.

    The scariest part? I understand where all of the options fall short.

    Fossil fuels are scarce, dirty, unhealthy and so 2010. Nuclear energy is still scarce (requires Uranium), produces dangerous nuclear waste, is a target for terrorist attacks, and is prone to accidents and natural disasters (Nebraskans are still under threat and no one has forgotten Fukushima, I hope). 

    So what’s the deal with renewables? Surely solar, wind and water are harmless. 

    Not in the eyes of Congress. But can you blame them? They’re having trouble staying within a $14.3 trillion debt limit. The last thing on their minds at this moment is putting money toward some solar panels and wind turbines. Still, there’s no reason why we can’t reduce emissions from the power sources we already have in place.

    I was pleased to read earlier this week that California courts ruled the state can proceed with developing cap-and-trade programs to gradually reduce emissions from power plants. But then the Los Angeles Times confirmed today that the carbon trading programs have been delayed for a year because of “the need for all necessary elements to be in place and fully functional,” according to Air Resources Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols. 

    This game of push and pull simply can’t last much longer.

    If Denmark can move from fossil fuels to clean energy, and Germany can move from nuclear (already a cleaner source of energy) to renewables, there must be a way that the United States can take its first baby step towards emissions reductions before the end of this year. If we don’t, our domestic markets will only fall farther behind in the world economy and we will only have larger public health and safety issues on our hands.