There are many challenges facing this industry, but there are also many opportunities. If industry advocates had a crystal ball, this is likely what they would predict where solar will be in the next five years.
The investment tax credit will be extended. They would see the entire industry and its allies rising up, writing letters and making phone calls to their Congressional representatives and giving money to the Solar Energy Industries Association’s (SEIA) SolarPAC, $150 at a time. The coffers will swell and the momentum surrounding solar builds until Congress could no longer stand in its way.
Now it may only be a five-year extension, but that will be enough to get the solar industry to President Obama’s Clean Power Plan (CPP), which will solidify solar’s position in the US energy mix forever.
The oil-and-gas industries are forced to compete in a real market. They would see an image of a C-Span screen, legislators running hither and thither, whence and whither, all to vote on a piece of legislation that would eliminate oil-and-gas industry subsidies, after more than a century.
As the camera panned to the gallery, they would see the Koch brothers weeping and Jigar Shah cheering. And why not? After a decade of being told solar needed to stand on its own feet, sans subsidies, the oil-and-gas industries finally had to do the same — and that’s a battle solar knows it will win.
Utilities stopped fighting — and learned how to embrace — solar energy. Fields and fields of solar panels would sprout before their eyes, which could only mean utilities had finally accepted solar as a critical part of their electricity-generating portfolio and had built massive projects.
They would see public-utilities commissions across the country — from Maine to Florida and North Carolina to California — instituting what appeared to be uniform solar standards on net-metering. They were calling it net-metering 2.0, and it managed to benefit both solar consumers and utilities, which encouraged more people to go solar than ever before. The crystal ball might be a little hazy on what net-metering 2.0 would look like, but it clearly must work for everyone.
Prices for solar systems continue their downward trend, putting solar within financial reach of every American. They would see “For Sale” signs on housing developments where all the houses had solar panels on them. They would overhear sales agents talking to potential homeowners extolling the virtues of having a solar-powered home. They would see apartment buildings and strip malls and big box stores, all with roofs shimmering as the sunlight reflected off their solar arrays. They would see community-solar farms providing electricity to rural areas that had previously been difficult to reach with traditional electrical transmission technologies.
But best of all — they would see fewer unsightly wires marring this country’s most beautiful vistas, replaced with gorgeous solar panels of all hues and shapes. It would be nice to see the innovation that has driven the industry in the past continues into the foreseeable future.
The commercial and industrial (C&I) market expands far beyond what anyone could have ever imagined. They would see articles from all the solar trade magazines, showing apartment buildings, stores and government buildings with solar panels on the roof, explaining how much money these entities were saving.
They would see flashes of big banks, regional banks and small banks extolling their increasing comfort with solar as a long-term investment. They would see the industry’s leading installers partnering with financial giants to self-finance projects so customers could have one place to get a project done from its beginning to its end and beyond.
Energy storage makes solar available everywhere. Batteries have opened markets previously thought to be untouchable by the solar revolution. Revolutionary battery technology has been adapted to the solar market so everyone can now store solar after sunset. With those innovations, solar can now theoretically be installed everywhere in the United States.
Ohio, Montana and North Dakota have become high-infiltration solar states because the revolution Tesla started in 2015 has blossomed into the most lucrative segment of the equipment market. Everyone always said batteries were the solar industry’s Holy Grail — and the visions produced by the advocates’ crystal ball prove it was true.
Such a crystal ball session would be exhausting and exhilarating at the same time (or so I’ve been told by crystal-ball aficionados). Can you imagine the positive energy that would spread from the advocates throughout the rest of the industry? And that energy would help build the strongest energy sector in the country, one panel at a time.
Written by Tony Clifford, CEO of Standard Solar