Renewable energy convention discusses future of solar energy

By Cale Ottens

Cronkite News

WASHINGTON – There are four elements needed for the growth and vitality of the solar-energy industry, but none may be more important than continued incentives for both manufacturers and consumers, industry officials said this week.

Ryan Simpson, business development manager for Phoenix-based Power-One, said the industry needs to educate consumers, find a better way to store solar energy and keep improving the technology behind the invention and manufacture of solar products.

But Simpson, who was one of more 1,000 attendees at the American Council on Renewable Energy convention in Washington, said none of those things would be possible without government funding.

“The industry would survive, but many companies wouldn’t be here today without the incentives,” Simpson said.

That theme was echoed in many conversations and presentations at the conference.

“It sounds like he’s singing my song,” said Tom Weirich, an ACORE vice president for membership and corporate relations, who ticked off the same elements as Simpson.

While more technological improvement is needed, however, not everyone agrees that it should be done with government incentives.

Kyle Travis, left and Jon Jackson, with Lighthouse Solar, install microcrystalline PV modules on top of Kevin Donovan’s Colorado townhome.

David Kreutzer, a research fellow in energy economics and climate change at the Heritage Foundation, said he does not think it is a good idea to invest taxpayers’ money in something that relies so heavily on government funding.

“We don’t want the government to subsidize or mandate the production of inefficient energy,” Kreutzer said. “If it costs $10 to produce $8 worth of energy, that’s a bad idea.”

But Simpson said the goal is to move away from incentives as the industry advances and improves. He believes the price of producing solar energy will continue to fall until it becomes affordable for consumers, allowing the industry to become less dependent on government money.

“You need to make it more affordable for everyone so we don’t have to be so connected to the incentives,” Simpson said.

One important step would be designating a leader to oversee and support the growth of the renewable-energy industry, Weirich said.

Weirich said each state has unique resources and could benefit from different types of renewable energy. Not every state has the solar-energy potential of Arizona, he noted.

“We’re a country of 50 different renewable markets,” he said. “We need to have policies that are most beneficial for each state.”

Simpson agreed that without a leader to focus state efforts, it will be nearly impossible to “make monumental, best-in-class changes.” But he is not surprised that solar energy often takes a back seat, because “there are many other issues that are more important to the consumer.”

That is why Simpson said that educating consumers is one of the four things he believes the industry needs to do a better job of doing before it can move forward.

Another element is the networking opportunity that conferences like ACORE’s present, and the ability they offer to see the larger picture.

“You have to think globally,” Simpson said. “There are so many emerging markets in the world. What I try to do is find people who know other people and make a love connection somehow.”

Long green to go green

Arizona governments and utilities offer a number of financial incentives to get homes and businesses to invest in renewable energy or make energy-efficiency improvements.

• Corporate tax credits: Gives businesses credit for some of the cost of installing renewable power or generating electricity from renewable sources.

• Green building incentives: Governments in Tucson, Scottsdale, Chandler and Buckeye offer different incentives.

• Industry recruitment/support: Property and income tax credits to lure renewable-energy product manufacturers to Arizona.

• Local rebate programs: Phoenix city rebates to homes and businesses along the light rail line that improve energy efficency.

• Personal deduction: A tax credit up to $500 for homeowners who convert a wood-burning fireplace to a wood stove.

• Personal tax credits: Gives homeowners credit for some of the cost of installing renewable power or generating electricity from renewable sources.

• Property tax incentive: Assessment reductions for businesses and homeowners who install and use renewable-energy equipment.

• Sales tax incentives: Exempts certain renewable-energy product purchases from sales tax.

• Utility loan programs: Special financing from APS and Sulphur Springs Valley Electric Cooperative for individuals and businesses to make energy-saving investments.

• Utility rebate programs: Rebates from a number of gas and electric providers in the state for energy-efficiency efforts by customers.

Source: Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency

Also: Clean-Technology Start-Ups Shift Focus/The Wall Street Journal

China Speeds Up Solar Lifeline/Renewable Energy World

New Study Shows Solar Installations Are Contagious In Neighborhoods/Solar Industry

If you’d like to discuss energy issues, contact Court Rich,

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