The solar industry is gearing up for our big annual tradeshow, Solar Power International 2013 (SPI’13) to be held next week in Chicago. SPI’13 convenes a broad group of people who represent today’s solar industry including manufacturers, developers, installers, investors, customers, IPPs, and utilities. It’s an opportunity to catch up on the industry’s progress and learn about the new trends shaping our future.
First and foremost this year, we have a lot to celebrate. The solar industry has been a bright spot in our national economy, growing in excess of 30% annually due to a potent combination of declining costs and rising demand for clean electricity. As a result, our industry now employs over 120,000 Americans who are hard at work transforming our nation’s power supply. Collectively we’ll install over 5GW this year, bringing the cumulative total solar power installed in the U.S. to over 10GW. Those kinds of numbers are finally bringing solar into the mainstream. In fact solar will be the second-largest source of new generation this year after natural gas. We’ve come a long way!
Of course there are big challenges ahead. Many of the policies that have served to create market stability and regulatory continuity are at risk of lapsing just as solar on the cusp of competing in wholesale markets against conventional energy sources. Pulling the rug out from underneath the industry just as we are transitioning to the mainstream presents a major risk.
Continuing our success will hinge on strategies that deliver the right outcomes on the big issues like net metering, renewable standards, global trade, and tax policy. I’m confident that our trade association, the Solar Energy Industries Association, has the leadership and resources to advocate successfully as we have many times before.
However, solar’s strong success brings with it brand new challenges. Solar’s scale and growth mean that the industry faces important questions about how to integrate large amounts of solar on the electric grid. We also face increasing questions about how this will challenge the industry to think about our role as mainstream members of the electric power sector. We must develop and promote a vision of a grid that runs smoothly with a high penetration of both central and distributed solar. Success requires us to envision ourselves as good citizens of the grid—the result will be to "grow the pie" and expand opportunity for all sectors.
I’m looking forward to SPI’13 and everything it brings. I hope to see you there.