U.S. Fights for First in Solar Industry

Thu, 2011-12-15 09:30

Energy Secretary Steven Chu recently posed a variety of questions at the closing ceremony of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon. He challenged attendees to think critically about the United States’ position in the solar industry and to not lose hope.

According to Chu, Americans invented solar cells, wind turbines, and lithium-ion batteries. He noted that we are no longer the leading manufacturer of these products. We acknowledge that the solar industry is the country’s fastest-growing energy sector, and with this rapid growth and expansion, Americans must rise up the challenge and recapture the lead.

Some may be dismayed by the news of Solyndra’s downfall. However, the U.S. solar industry still employs more than 100,000 Americans, which is twice as many as in 2009. Similarly, solar panel installations are steadily increasing each month. There is hope for the solar industry. It is now about finding the competitive advantage over other big players in the game, like China, which spent $33 billion in 2010 on solar loans.

If anything, we should look at how far we’ve come. Solar energy is not a new concept; it has been around for decades. The U.S. solar industry didn’t start booming until about five years ago when federal subsidies became available and Silicon Valley venture capitalists began pumping in cash.

Now, solar is becoming more affordable and more common. Panel prices have fallen 30% since the beginning of 2010. This may look like a bad statistic, but for the companies that have figured out their competitive advantage, it will not mean the end of the industry. According to Jesse Pichel, a clean tech analyst with Jefferies & Co, “there’s going to be a lot of bankruptcies in this sector, reminiscent of the Internet bubble bursting, and that’s ultimately a very healthy thing for the development of the industry.” I think that’s an astute assessment.

The Department of Energy awarded up to $13.6 billion in federal backing for 17 large solar projects - $7.6 billion of which was finalized last month. So far, Solyndra is the only U.S.-backed company to seek bankruptcy. Lots of people have focused only on Solyndra and have used that experience to evaluate the entire U.S. solar industry, which isn’t fair.

Demand for solar power is growing. It is becoming more common for states to require their utilities to derive part of their electricity from renewable energy. One such example is California, where a law requires that a third of their power come from renewables by 2020. That’s not too far away.

To meet the demands of the industry, and to satisfy state requirements, individuals must maintain a positive attitude toward solar energy and seek out the appropriate training to become involved. If everyone sits around and waits for the industry to fail, it will. We need people to participate and drive the industry forward. The U.S. fights to be first in every other industry; why should this be any different?

To become a part of the movement, you’ll need to learn the basics of solar energy and achieve industry certifications to get you qualified to do the work. Read more about renewable energy on Everblue’s Solar PV training page.

By Lesley Cowie

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